I’m not big on posts like this, but 9/11 was obviously one of the most significant events of our lifetime. For someone who’s always been interested in the world both within and outside of America’s borders, the attacks of that day signified for me a new era in how America interacts with the world. It forced all of us to take our ideals and re-shape them for a new era, one in which technology made the world smaller and more interdependent than ever, but the old rules about needing to provide necessary constraints against government never went away.
The one thing I remember about that morning 10 years ago was how quick I just “knew”. It’s not that I ever imagined a terrorist attack like the one we experienced, but it was merely the odd coincidence of my phone ringing at 6:30am and then minutes later hearing a radio news reporter say the words “and one tower has fallen” before I reflexively banged on my snooze button. It clicked in my head instantly that something major was happening and I jumped out of bed, ran to the living room and put on the TV. I made it into work by about noon that day – after frantically calling friends and family out east – and was little more than a zombie, unable to focus on anything other than the realization that America wasn’t immune from spectacular acts of violence.
One thing that I find interesting is that when I hear the stories of others – particularly those of an older generation – talk about it, I’m often struck by how many of them instantly thought: this is war. I never thought that. I still don’t. At the time, I was a 26-year-old who believed that the world was at a point where wars like World War II couldn’t happen again. There was too much interaction in all aspects of our global existence for that to happen again. Five years and a month before that horrible day, I was at a Pizza Hut in St. Petersburg, Russia. The end of the cold war occurred while I was in high school, and the world I began to explore was supposed to be content with free market economies and shitty American pizza. But for those who lived through earlier times, the violence of 9/11 was seen through a lens of many years of concern over an event like that coming from a foreign government hell-bent on annihilating America.
Terrorism is an act born of powerlessness. It’s the most craven expression of political impotence one can conjure. The logic of terrorism is that the average everyday person isn’t sufficiently animated by your plight, and therefore they bear some guilt for it. It’s a twisted pathology that will sadly exist throughout the history of humanity. We can’t defeat it any more than we can defeat other failings of the human condition. But we can make it worse whenever we support policies that leave people powerless. Personal and political autonomy needs to be a focus in everything we do politically, and how we interact with the world.
But very little of that has happened. Instead, we’ve allowed ourselves to be terrified and submissive, giving up many of our own freedoms out of a baseless fear of further attacks. It would be too simple to blame that on one particular group. This was an all-American trend in the days and months after 9/11, but the trend is finally reversing. 9/11 signified the onset of a new mindset of “permanent war” in Washington. We accepted it because that day scared us. But it’s time to recognize that no matter how horrible an act of violence is, allowing our government to be unrestrained in the name of “fighting terrorism” is far worse.