Sweet Tea with Lemon - A Decade of War
Like most Americans, I spent a great deal of time this week
thinking back to that gut-wrenching day of September 11, 2001.
The killing and capture (in that order, I gather) of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by U.S. Navy Seals this week was both an occasion to celebrate the end of a chapter in our country's war on terror and a moment to reflect on how that chapter started in the first place.
Like a lot of people on the East Coast, I was just starting my workday on Tuesday morning when a member of the sales team at The Mountain Times mentioned that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Towers in New York City.
My first thought was that it must have been a small private plane like a Piper Cub and a pilot who was perhaps disoriented in the early morning fog and didn't realize how close he was to some of the tallest buildings in the world.
I went into the editorial room where there was a television on and quickly realized that this was no small plane that had hit the building. Smoke was pouring out of a gaping hole that seemed to be over half the width of the entire skyscraper.
Then it happened. For a split second we saw the second jumbo jet before it disappeared into a ball of flames as it hit the second building.
In that same split second, every American watching the news knew immediately that this was no accident. We were under attack. It was only later would we learn who ordered the attack: Osama bin Laden.
Each generation has an event or two that is branded onto its collective memory. You will always remember where you were when you heard the news that...
For my grandparents' generation, those moments include President Franklin D. Roosevelt coming on the radio and telling the nation in somber tones that the Japanese Imperial Air Force had just attacked on Pearl Harbor.
My parents' generation will always remember where they were when they learned the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.
My generation will forever be haunted by the memory of first learning of the death of John Lennon in 1980 and of the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986.
But I'm not sure if any of those moments holds a candle to what we collectively witnessed on 9/11. For one thing, the attack on Pearl Harbor wasn't aired on television or in real time as 9/11 was.
When we watched the two World Trade Center towers dissolve into massive piles of concrete, steel and ash, we literally witnessed the deaths of thousands of innocent people as it was happening.
It still makes me shudder.
Of course there are moments in our collective history that we remember in a positive way. I'm old enough to remember where I was when Neil Armstrong took those first few steps on the moon. And my grandparents celebrated the end of World War II like it was Christmas, New Year's and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.
For many Americans, the death of Osama bin Laden was cause for celebration, and spontaneous gatherings broke out in cities and on college campuses all over the country on Sunday night and Monday morning.
I can appreciate the exuberance of those celebrations, particularly by college students who were somewhere around 10 or 11 years old when 9/11 happened. They must have felt at the time that the world that they knew had suddenly and drastically changed forever.
And they were right.
The attacks of 9/11 changed the way our country does business. Our yearly defense spending doubled. Unheard of security measures instantly became routine. The concept of personal privacy, when weighed against the issues of safety and security, was thrown out the window.
After 9/11, we immediately invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to quash bin Laden and Al Qaeda, then became distracted by an unnecessary war in Iraq.
Now we are supporting rebels who want to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya without a firm grasp of who those rebels are and how they will view the United States should they grab the reins of that Middle Eastern country.
If we do anything during this time of reflection, we should look at how we have changed as Americans in the past decade. We have become casually militaristic, as if everyone in the world is either our ally or our enemy in an eternal struggle for world dominance.
During World War II, everybody knew we were at war, and those left at home worked in the war effort and made sacrifices. These days, unless you are actually in the military, war is treated as business as usual. There are no sacrifices to be made on the home front, just a lot of complaining when gas prices go up.
We can do better. Perhaps reflecting on 9/11 this week will rekindle our desire for peace for all mankind.