Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was still living in Windsor, Colorado, where my father had died nine years earlier in a futile attempt to change the way kids are educated. I was commuting in a van pool to Westminster, a suburb of Denver, where I would soon move to be closer to my job as a technical writer at Avaya.

I was listening to the car radio while driving to the Windsor Park N'Ride soon after the first plane hit. The first reports said that a small plane had accidentally hit the World Trade Center. During the time that it took to get to Avaya, the second plane crashed, and it was clear that both crashes were part of a coordinated attack.

The company had invited everyone into its large auditorium to watch the unfolding events on a large screen TV. While there, we learned of the Pennsylvania crash, saw the World Trade Center towers collapse, and watched the aftermath of the Pentagon crash. I was sitting next to my boss, whose brother was working near the section hit at the Pentagon.

Realizing that no one would be productive after that, the company sent us all home. The most direct evidence of what had just happened was the silence above us as all air traffic was grounded; it was the first time in my life that something wasn't flying overhead. When I got home, I obsessively watched the news, which would become a habit for years afterwards, and processed what had happened with my friends and family.

There was no doubt that the attacks were pure evil. That someone would plan the execution of thousands of people was unfathomable; that they would actually do it was reprehensible in the extreme. At the time, I didn't know that the perpetrators had declared war on us, that our government knew such attacks could happen, or that there was a part of the world that viewed us as a mortal cultural and economic threat. When it came out that the hijackers believed they were on a holy mission that would be rewarded with sex in heaven, it became clear that faith was the enabler of this evil, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, and as such it might be practically unstoppable.

Practically everyone I knew became a lot more cautious, and paranoia seemed to grip the country. We were encouraged to report any suspicious activity, but not informed what that might be. I saw a photo in Newsweek soon after we invaded Afghanistan, of someone who looked a lot like Osama bin Laden, and was surprised that he wasn't identified as such; dutifully, I sent an e-mail to the FBI about it, and never got a response.

By 2003, after numerous terror alerts, the level of paranoia was still high enough for most people to support the invasion of Iraq, despite shaky evidence. I'm proud to say that I wasn't one of them; in fact, by that time I had come to distrust both the judgment and veracity of the Bush administration, and found the cost-benefit analyses I was hearing totally unconvincing.

That opinion was reinforced in the intervening years, and it became clear to me that people like Bush were using threats and disaster for pure political and economic gain, sabotaging the Constitution, destroying anyone who got in their way, and therefore making them a greater threat than the enemies who attacked us on 9/11. Unwilling to just complain, I became politically involved in ensuring that such people never held such power again.

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