Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Remembrances of 9/11

There have been quite a few 9/11 remembrances today and for good reason. It's natural to reflect on such an important event. I'm not going to claim to be the best at remembering the events of that day with super-deep thoughts and I personally had no family ties to New York (well, I didn't at the time), but it's one of those days that goes without saying will never be forgotten. Every generation has a moment (or two or three) where they will never forget where they were and for this generation 9/11 is probably the moment most people can remember where they were. Even 12 years after I'm not entirely sure how to talk about the events that occurred.

I was on the AppalCart, which was basically a bus that took me to class everyday at Appalachian State, getting ready for a 9:30am class. We always heard music (as chosen by the bus driver) on the bus and on this day talk radio was playing. It wasn't unusual and I don't think anyone on the bus really was paying great attention to what the radio was saying. I kept hearing about an attack on New York and figured they were talking about the previous World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Quickly it became apparent as I listened to the radio this was a terrorist attack currently taking place and this wasn't a discussion of the 1993 bombing. I wasn't scared because it was around 8:50am and I didn't know it was an attack on multiple levels. It just seems a plane hit the World Trade Center. No one knew why yet. After the short ride to the business school for my 9:30am class I stayed outside for a cigarette and what struck me as odd (in retrospect of course) is how calm everyone was talking. At this point, I don't think the magnitude of what happened was completely understood. There was very little panic or sadness because all of the information wasn't known yet. There was one plane that hit the World Trade Center and even when the second plane hit I don't think it sunk in that it was a planned attack. My 9:30am class still took place and then of course everyone stood around the television after that to watch the horror as it was recapped and shown on repeat. My 12:30pm class was canceled and we were given the option of watching the news coverage as a class together, which I remember everyone in the class choosing to do.

What I remember most about 9/11, at least in my corner of the world, was the reaction my friends had to what happened. I, being who I am, wasn't that surprised that America had gotten attacked. Obviously I didn't wake up on that Tuesday morning and expect that there would be a terrorist attack, but being a somewhat history buff and having a Political Science minor, I knew other countries didn't exactly love the United States and an attack was always a possibility. There had been two prior attacks on American soil and we were only a year removed from the bombing of the USS Cole. So for me, an attack on American soil that was very successful didn't sound that out of the realm of possibility. Clearly I did not want this to happen, but I wasn't incredibly shocked, but more concerned and frustrated at the lack of immediate information.

A lot of arguments were started among my friends (mostly them arguing with me) based on my lack of what I called at the time "unbreakable faith in America being immune from the world." I'm not sure I need to explain what this means too much, but I was shocked by the outright shock that my friends had. It's not the shock of what happened, but the shock this could happen to the United States, as if the US isn't a world citizen and therefore the problems of the world would never touch American soil. I had a very vicious (and vicious was the word for it, trust me, it got personal) conversation with a friend of mine about the terrorist attacks. We were watching the coverage and I finally said, "Well, this probably was bound to happen at some point" and before I could completely finish my thought that statement pretty much sent my friend into a rage. I guess the inevitability (from my point of view) of a terrorist group or another country bringing violence against the United States came off as too smug for him. I'm not sure.

I probably was smug about it, but I thought his shock was more about "How dare they do this to us, our citizens are supposed to be immune from this type of thing" than actual sympathy and concern for the victims of the attack. I felt it was more of an arrogant attitude of American superiority that was being displayed rather than concern for what had happened. The world was interconnected and at some point all the bad shit that happened around the world had to happen in America's backyard. Heck, it already happened twice before. Of course, my friend took this to mean I didn't care about what happened and thought it was deserved for the United States meddling in affairs around the world. That couldn't have been further from the truth, but I don't think he was willing to put aside his rage for a few minutes to understand my theory of the world being interconnected and at some point the fight would be brought to American soil. I wasn't willing to put aside my smug attitude that was admittedly focused too much on the inevitability of the attack.

I would do things differently now, of course, but at the time I saw video of people jumping out of the building to their death and pointed out to my friend that terrible shit like this happens nearly everyday around the world. I wasn't trying to downplay what had happened, but point out that terrible things happen all over the world and it doesn't make logical sense for the United States to be immune simply because we are the United States.

After I pointed this out he said, and I won't forget it, "It's not supposed to happen in America. It's not right."

I responded, while pointing a finger of course, "That's the exact type of attitude that led us to this situation happening. You think we are too good for this to happen, the government thought we were too good for this to happen and this shows we aren't too good."

Again, poorly chosen words there, but I still understand what I was attempting to get at. I live in the United States and obviously I love this country and think it is the greatest country on Earth. I think 9/11 was a day where some of the naivety (for myself as well) was ripped away from America and the reality that a small group of people with funding could have a huge negative impact finally set in. Terrorist attacks can happen in America, just like terrorist attacks happen in other parts of the world. It's not fair, it's not right, but it was the new reality. I wasn't trying to be cold about it, but reality sucks and 9/11 was a huge reality check for a lot of Americans.

My remembrances of 9/11 are just a lot of confusion and the reality that I want America to be different and immune, but I knew it wasn't true. America is a part of the world and the world can be an ugly place. When you are a large country with a powerful military like the United States you tend to accumulate enemies as quickly as you accumulate friends. I'm not sure generations who weren't alive when 9/11 happened will never understand the confusion, anger and hurt that took place among American citizens on that day. Those days after the attack when America pulled together, George Bush stepped on the rubble with a megaphone, and it was clear American would bounce back with time makes me feel proud still.

I never thought this type of attack would really happen to the magnitude that it did, but at the time I was frustrated with the "we should be immune"-type attitude that some of my friends had. I don't think some of my friends understood that other countries viewed the United States in a negative light and this would make us a target for terrorist activity. There was no reason a terrorist attack couldn't happen on American soil, specifically since it had already happened at the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City. I hated the reality of it. 9/11 is a day where we all go around remembering, while also wishing we could forget. Forgetting wouldn't do justice to the emergency responders and helpless American citizens who got trapped in the two towers or were on one of the flights on that day, so it's our responsibility to remember.

I can't imagine the feeling of being an emergency responder and having to climb stairs up one of the towers knowing full well you very well may not be coming back down the stairs. I think that's my biggest remembrance of 9/11, not the stupid fight(s) I had, not the shock about the event, but the reminder that when it all goes to shit there are heroes whose name I will never remember willing to step in and try to help save the lives of others. For me, while 9/11 is a horrible day in American history, I also remember it as a great day when the United States was tested and responded with heroism, strength, and resolve. That's how I choose to remember the day. The spirit of the nation wasn't broken even at the worst of times.

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