Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

End of the Innocence?

For 10 years, I’ve been quiet about my personal reaction to and feelings about the events of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath. But it seems fitting on today’s 10 year anniversary to let my perspective finally be heard.

Nothing in my experience of the day or my feelings as it unfolded was unique or remarkable. I was a stay-at-home mom of two young children ages 2 and 2 months who took her kids to a morning gym class and came home to news reports of tragedy. Millions of Americans saw the same scenes I saw and were glued just as voyeuristically to the horror unfolding on television as I was. It was what happened in the days, months, and years afterward that came to shape how I feel today about the events of that day.

People associate a wide variety of feelings with their personal experience of 9/11: grief, loss, fear, confusion, insecurity. Personally, I associate 9/11 with shame and anger – for my own country. If today’s ten year anniversary is about loss, and here’s what I believe we truly lost on 9/11:

* We lost over 3,000 civilian lives in a horrifically tragic way – as tragic as the millions of innocent lives which continue to be lost in horrific ways all over the world from violence, preventable disease, human cruelty to fellow humans, and wars which we ourselves are perpetrating.

* We lost our sense of fiscal responsibility, led by a President who told our citizenry that to spend money to avoid recession was their patriotic duty. Is it a surprise that we are in the economic situation we are today?

* We lost our sense of security at home, just like we lost that sense when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. We vowed we’d never forget the lessons we learned following that particular national tragedy, never repeat the mistakes made in the aftermath.

* We lost the recognition of individuality for which we were admired throughout history. We blamed an entire religion instead of a handful of radical zealots. We feared and institutionally discriminated against Americans who practiced Islam, making them feel fear in their own country and depriving them of individual liberty, just like we did to Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor.

* We lost the very foundation of freedom that defines us as a nation. Instead of being MORE vigilant to protect that for which the world envied us, we gave it up for the illusion of action to create a false security which never did, never could, and never will exist.

* We lost our pride in our freedom to question those in power. We pretended unity and called it patriotism. We called traitor those who disagreed, rather like the very extremists we abhorred.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty – power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people.” Wendell Phillips, 1852

After the events of 9/11, we vowed not to let the terrorists and the extremists win, but when we allowed them to take our sense of security in ourselves, when we allowed our priceless American liberties to be eroded, we gave up our power. “We have met the enemy – and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, 1953)

“The world changed that day,” they say. But did it? Or was it just your personal perception of the world that changed? “We will never forget,” they say. But that’s what a generation before us said after Pearl Harbor.

I believe with all my heart in what the United States of America truly stands for, in the ideals on which it was founded. But I feel we have fallen far away from those ideals as a result of our reaction to the events of 9/11 – and THAT is what saddens and angers me even more than the loss of innocent life. I pray that as a country, we will stop cowering behind bravado and return someday to what made us truly great: to embracing the REAL American values of individualism with respect, openness without fear, and freedom with hope that made us a target that fateful day.

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Comments on: "End of the Innocence?" (8)

  1. …you said what i cannot, as an outsider.

    i was in South Korea on September 11th, 2001, tightly knit into an expat community made up of mostly Canadians and Americans. i had not realized how different we tended to be on issues of patriotism and questioning of power until our polarized reactions to the horror of the events (and we were ALL horrified) made it clear. and made me very sad.

    a brave post. i hope, for all our sakes, that your country finds its way through the current extremism to something more noble, more productive, more tenable.

  2. Why would anyone care what you think?

  3. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Thank you for your courage to say what many of us Americans feel, too…

  5. I agree with most of what you say and feel that it happened to Britain, too, but I have to point out that part of the problem with the USA is that it is true to too great an extent that it collectively thinks “the world envies” it. This is exactly the kind of hubris that makes people dislike the USA! I don’t envy the USA at all and even when I lived there, (I left on 1/9/2001) I could see that most of its citizens were already blind to how they were being controlled and repressed whilst still spouting trite falsities like “the land of the free.”

  6. A, Capt PeBo, & Bon: Thank you for your comments. I, too, hope that we find our way through, Bon, and I believe that we will as more and more people have the courage to reclaim their heritage of free speech and strive for the ideal of equality for all people.

    dlk: you cared enough to not only read, but to comment! I respect your right to disagree.

    I see your point, Arbie, but I do believe that most people envy the IDEAL that the United States represents but that we so imperfectly embody: the ideals of freedom and a future determined by one’s actions rather than by one’s bloodline or birth status. “Land of the free” is an ideal, for sure, especially when we remember how many of the founding fathers had slaves, for example. But is it certainly not a “trite falsity.” There is no denying that the dream America represents has inspired people from all over the world over centuries. That dream comes in many ways, shapes, and forms with many religions and cultures, but it certainly is a very universal one.

  7. Citizens of the USA have to present their papers to the police upon demand (i.e. show their driving license): proving who one is to the police instead of the police proving who they are is my defining characteristic for a “police state”. Indoctrination from birth to literally venerate the physical flag is thought control of the worst kind. High school rituals perpetuate sexist repression. The list goes on…

    And here’s my point: many people may well envy the USA, but to extrapolate to “the world” is outrageous and false. Other places are equally or more free societies. The citizens of the USA need to collectively look at how they are failing to provide justice and equality of opportunity, stop tacitly assuming they are superior to everyone else and get stuck into sorting out the many problems at home. Britain needs to do the same, as does every other country that wants to claim it is “free and democratic”.

  8. I agree to a point. Yes–our individual rights were amended to a degree that renders us less powerful in the state of our country. Yes we have driven our country further into debt and onto reliance of foreign trade. And yes, we are the catalyst for the deaths of hundreds of thousands around the world due to our reaction.

    That is not what 9/11 is–at least to me. It is a time of reflection. A time to send our thoughts and prayers (or whatever you want) to the families who did lose loved ones in the actual attacks. It can be viewed as an annual time to gain understanding and perspective as a nation. It should be used as a sign post to future generations to keep them from making the same closed minded mistakes we are still making today.

    Please keep in mind however, the international chaos that was caused by this–would have happened anyway. The financial meltdown was sped up by this event. The same irresponsible Presidents would have remained in office and the same irresponsible decisions would have been made.

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