I still clearly remember the day it happened. Things were more or less calm the day before, the stories in the news being the body of a missing Congressional aide found in a park, and the President still facing a grumbling opposition still sore after losing a close election. I was actually starting to pay a little less attention to the news.
Just after it happened, someone told me he heard on the radio that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. At first I thought he meant a small private plane. When he told me a minute later it was a commercial airliner, I thought he was joking. But when I had a chance to get close to the radio, I found out it was no joke. At break time, I got a chance to see on a news website the details known, and then the announcement of a second plane crashing into the tower. Then back at work on the radio, we heard of a third plane crashing into the Pentagon. As the day went on, I tried to keep as close to the radio, but I couldn’t always. I would hear of the first tower collapsing, a fourth plane having disappeared from the radar, then I heard the second tower collapsing as it happened.
When I got home, part of me was numb. A lot had happened that day. But another part of me was anxious as for what lay ahead. Would there be more terrorist attacks? Would there be martial law? What I did know was that we were a nation at war.
Life had changed. Pop culture seemed to be at a standstill as we were either reeling in disbelief of looking for the latest news. There were countless tributes to the fallen large and small, one memorial event at New York city with people singing in their honor. There were numerous cartoons and songs online about how we were going to get Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The political bickering vanished overnight as we had become a nation united, in both grief and a desire to find and eliminate those who caused this. Bush, whom had been reviled by the left and given lukewarm support by the right, was looked up to as the man to help lead us to safety at home and punishment for those who had wronged us abroad. While there was no martial law, a new Homeland Security department came up and was scanning the Internet for signs of trouble, and there was the TSA at the airports, groping passengers before they could get on the plane. But eventually, the late night comedy shows began rolling again, and people were going back to theaters.
After about a month, our payback started when we attacked Taliban-run Afghanistan, aiding the Northern Alliance groups in their fight with the Islamist regime. After a couple months, the short war was won. But the victory was an incomplete one. Bin-Laden had gotten away thanks to a decision by Bush to rely mainly on our Northern Alliance allies, who proved unreliable, refusing to allow American forces to go in during a cease-fire they declared, and Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to seal the border. The bad guy was still out there.
Over time, there would be more attempted acts of terrorism, such as the “shoe bomber” and “underwear bomber,” which led to more restrictions on plane travel. Iraq had been believed to be helping Al Qaeda, and about a year and a half later, that country was invaded. A second front in our “War on Terrorism” had begun. Although a few Americans opposed it, most were willing to go along with President Bush, trusting he was making the right decision. But after the invasion, things continued to go wrong. And in Afghanistan, the Taliban began to come back. President Bush would end his term in office with American soldiers still in both countries.
There were also the conspiracy theories. Surely, there was no way nineteen nobodies could cause so much destruction on their own. It had to be an inside job, a few people were saying. These theories have ranged from planted demolition charges to aliens plotting to influence the course of Earth history. But an investigation by an international team of engineers of the collapse of the World Trade Center stated it all happened as it appeared.
Time continued to go on, with conflicts between Homeland Security/ FBI and privacy advocates over the governments ability to peek into email. Eventually, we had a new President, Obama, whom had gotten attention early in the election as he had been one of the few in the government to oppose the invasion of Iraq. The “Arab Spring” in 2011 seemed to be a repudiation against dictatorships in the Middle East, and it seemed to be freedom was finally on the march. But that proved not to be the case as the removal of dictatorships seemed to pave the way for the nastiest of the opposing groups, Islamists, to move into the vacuum created by their removal, or the dictatorships such as the one in Iran responded brutally and crushed the pro-democracy dissenters. The removal of American forces from Iraq led to a new enemy, ISIS/DAESH taking over much of the country and neighboring Syria.
While the Arab Spring was still going on, finally Bin-Laden was killed. He had been located in Pakistan, and a team of special operations soldiers was sent to kill him. But the decision to have the body buried at sea, while understandable to prevent followers from gathering at a shrine, opened the door for conspiracy theories. But Al Qaeda itself confirmed the killing. Still, the decision to dispose of the body so quickly before more could see it and more evidence could be gathered was probably not the best decision. Americans cheered, but only briefly. The War on Terrorism went on with no end in sight.
Sixteen years later, America is still involved in Afghanistan, and the Middle East is still under the threat of Islamofacism. While ISIS/DAESH is on the retreat, there are other less visible forces forcing locals to live under their interpretation of their religion, attacking neighbors, and both. Europe has been having to deal with a flood of Muslim immigrants, mostly from Syria, and while some are converting to Christianity, there have been numerous reports of rape, and there have been numerous acts of terrorism. There are stories of districts in cities with large immigrant populations being “no go” zones for police and locals. America itself has more or less taken for granted that the government may snoop in its email, and airliner passengers will be groped by the blue-gloved agents of the TSA. When the United States was asked to accept some of Syria’s refugees, the answer from many Americans was a firm NO! News reports of terrorism and the reports of rapes helped ensure no more than a trickle would come in, and the newly elected President Trump made an Executive Decision to severely restrict immigration from several Middle Eastern countries where terrorism is a problem.
I’ve seen numerous reactions to 9/11. There have been a few, such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, saying it was the result of the arrogance of those in power, left and right, in America at home and abroad. Others felt this was the result of weakness and naviete, that the insistence of those in power that Americans be nice and do things the “right” way led to nasty people deciding such weakness must be exploited. One man I talked to felt Bush was right to send men into the Middle East, “But he picked the wrong target. He should have instead invaded Saudi Arabia and occupied Mecca.” Feeling all Muslims were savages at heart, he felt what was needed was a few atomic bombings, and the leader of every Islamic country and group be made to show up at a surrender ceremony like the one in Tokyo Bay on the deck of the USS Missouri. Then and only then, faced with ultimate destruction, did he think the Muslims would leave us in peace. Conservatives consider this trash talk, but feel America faces a long struggle with Islamofacism. They feel we are facing an amorphous enemy with no central leader or central capital, and whose members could easily blend into the general population of the countries they were in. Victory, they conclude, will involve constant vigilance at home and a willingness to use force abroad that will last for many decades. To many Liberals, and libertarians, as horrific as Sept 11 was, it was an act by a weak enemy that got lucky, that radical Islamists are basically nothing more than a savage nuisance of which the greatest danger is overreacting. Indeed many Liberals feel the “real enemy” is at home and not abroad. Of Islam and Muslims, they feel despite the radical elements, they deserve respect on an equal footing as followers of other religions, and that the theory of global warming, resistance to Multiculturalism, and dismantling symbols of the American Civil War are much greater concerns. Naturally, such attitudes have led them into conflict with Conservatives, a few of the latter wondering if it will take “another 9/11” for all Americans to take the struggle against Islamofacism seriously.
One friend of mine commented of 9/11 “Hey, this is not the century I was told I would have. I was told there’d be flying cars and people vacationing on the moon. Instead we have religious nuts blowing up buildings and saying we need to get back to the thirteenth century.” Another commented that perhaps Sept 11 was a reminder that Humanity had gone far beyond how nature intended it to live. For all of man’s accomplishments, he felt, humans were still savages at heart with a thirst for blood. As tribal peoples, we lived in a state of eternal warfare with neighbors who could strike at any time and kill everyone but breeding age females to keep for themselves. With Industrialization and modern technology, we have achieved prosperity like never before, individuals having power at their fingertips that was once unheard of. But religious zealots he felt, are driven by their caveman instincts to get everyone to conform to their ideology, usually based on centuries’ old doctrines. In the past, while they could kill many, such as the Cult of Kali, ultimately they were limited by only having swords and knives as weapons. But with modern technology, fanatics had to power to wreck destruction as never before. The September 11 attacks, he felt, were a reminder of both how fragile modern life can be, and that humans had yet to truly rise above their tribal nature. He feared that unless people faced up to hard questions on freedom of privacy and religion, in the future other fanatics could very well end up setting off a nuclear holocaust. While Humanity would survive, it would be knocked back to a Medieval state. As all easily drilled for sources of oil and easily mined deposits of coal have been used up, he saw a long Dark Age for man that could very well last for thousands of years.
But in my opinion, no, this is not the fate that we are destined for. Yes, there have been bad people over time whom find it easier to steal rather than build, or wreck destruction in an attempt to rebuild a new world in their image. And at some moments in history there are times when they temporarily have the upper hand. But most people would rather mind their own business, building rather than breaking. If history is a struggle between those trying to build the future and those trying to blow it up, history has had the builders in the lead usually. Yes, evil men like Hitler and Bin-Laden show up time to time and wreck havoc. And if history is any guide, they will continue to. But in the end, they are defeated. And Humanity goes on to build a better future.
Murray M. Lee