For my grandparents, it was Pearl Harbor. For my parents, it was JFK’s assassination. For my generation, we’ll never forget where we were on 9/11.
I was in fifth grade. It was book fair day, and my mom came to school to ‘surprise’ me and buy me a book. Then she took me out of school. Of course, I thought I was just getting taken out of school because it was book fair day, right? It’s a magical day of fun and fantasy, so I was just excited tovgo home and read my awesome new Captain Underpants book with patented flip-o-matic technology. But instead, we went to church. ‘It’s not Sunday,’ I said to her. ‘Why are we going to church?’
That’s when she told me what was going on, and I had less than no idea what any of it meant. I don’t think anybody knew. She said that the World Trade Centers had been bombed, that someone was attacking us, and that we were in danger. It was probably about noon. But after we went to church, she cried the whole way home. We sat there listening to the radio as people speculated about what was going on.
I think the thing I remember most about it was The Simpsons not being on for like, two weeks straight. That was my concern as an 11-year-old.
But as time went on, I started realizing what it meant. I saw the president on the TV more and more talking about our enemies overseas, how we needed to go and attack them before they could attack us (again). It was scary, sure, but I was caught up in the hype, just like everyone else. In case you need a refresher, there were American flags on practically every house, business, and street corner for about a year after 9/11. Patriotism was running high, and you were either with us, or against us. Hell, we even started calling french fries ‘freedom fries’ just because the French wouldn’t join the ‘coalition of the willing.’
And then, out of nowhere, the TV broadcasts of the bombings started. I sat there in my living room with my eyes glued to the TV. It was like watching Saturday morning cartoons, except instead of Spongebob or the Fairly Odd Parents, I was watching night-vision footage of an entire country getting blown to shit. Innocent people losing their lives. Homes gone. Brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers…gone.
I didn’t understand it then. I thought it was cool. I thought that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. It was black and white, night and day. But now that I’m older, now that I’ve lived the last 17 years in a country filled with constant, unbridled fear, I think I get it.
It took me a while, that’s for sure. I even remember in high school I still was listening to my dad’s bitching about ‘Bush going into Iraq for the oil,’ or ‘Trying to finish off what his old man started.’ Which, the more I think about it, the more I realize how absolutely ridiculous that line of thinking is.
We were scared. Hell, we’re still scared. That’s all.
We’re scared because we don’t know when it could happen. Where it could happen. Who could do it. Or where it could come from. We’re just afraid of the unknown. It’s like the McCarty era all over again.
So here we are. Instead of trying to find the root cause of the problem, we didwhat normal human beings do. We fought. We went in, guns blazing, and we tore the place to hell. Was that the right course of action? Fuck no. Did we destabilize an entire region of the world even more than before just because of our fear? Fuck yes.
But, like all grown ups do when they fuck up, we live with the consequences.
People over the age of 45 love saying that we kids just don’t understand. ‘Millennials just don’t know what it’s like growing up with the constant fear of utter annihilation. In my day, we had to worry about the Russians bombing us every five minutes. We had drills to duck and cover every week in school.’
Which is true. I don’t understand that.
But my wife just got done helping her 6th graders learn how to apply a tourniquet to a gunshot wound. Do y’all know about that?
I don’t understand what it’s like to have nuclear apocalypse on my mind 24/7, but I do know what it’s like to the entire world hate my country. I do know what it feels like to have the constant threat of dirty bombs, terrorist attacks, and home grown terrorists destroy my society. I know what it’s like to feel like an enemy in my own country, having the police, military, and security forces parade around our streets and public institutions looking for a skull to bash in because they somebody says something wrong or gives them a wrong look.
And it’s all because of that one day, 17 years ago. I’m not sure that the hijackers knew what they were doing would change the world this much. I think they hoped it would, but I don’t think they knew for sure the consequences of their actions.
Hopefully, in the very near future, we can forget about the hate. We can forget about the fear. And remember what it’s like to work together to solve a problem without throwing money, guns, and bullets at it.
But we can’t forget why and how we got there, and the hard road that led us to our utopia. The loss, the hate, and of course, the lives.