September 11, 2001, changed the world. Evil invaded North America on a scale that had never before been seen. In a matter of hours, our innocence evaporated and our sense of security fell away. We thought terrorism only happened “over there,” in the Middle East, Asia or, frankly, anywhere but North America. But now it was here.
Consequently, September 11 became known not only as a day that changed the world, but as a day that changed us. Forever. At least that’s what we said. But just eight years later, it seems that our resolve has faltered and the psyche of many Americans and Canadians has reverted back to its pre-9/11 state of naivety.
I remember spending the day in front of the television, trying desperately to write a column and meet a deadline, even when there were no words that could even begin to convey the horror of the images I was seeing and, at that point, no reasons to explain why it was happening.
Planes flying into office towers, people jumping from windows 100 stories above the ground in an attempt to exchange the inevitability of one kind of death for another, and the roar as the towers collapsed, crushing 2,000 office workers and their rescuers floor by floor. When the immense ball of debris and smoke cleared, the tallest buildings in the New York skyline were no longer there. It seemed more like an action flick than reality.
But these events didn’t crush the American spirit, they only revealed it. In the days that followed, a plethora of stories emerged to demonstrate the heroism, sacrifice, resilience and determination of workers and volunteers. Remember the photograph of three firemen planting the American flag on a pile of rubble? Patriotism swelled and flags flew off the shelves in stores. There was a common resolve to find Osama bin Laden and conquer this evil that had now invaded North America.
Yet, fast-forward eight years and much of this defiance has diminished. Both Americans and Canadians are weary of talk about terrorism and tired of wars where there has been no clear victory.
The name Bin Laden is now more often associated with jokes than cries for justice. Polls say up to one-third of Americans believe conspiracy theorists and their claims that the American government either assisted in the terror attacks or did nothing to stop them. This week, nominal actor/ political activist Charlie Sheen wrote an open letter to President Obama, asking him to reopen the investigation into 9/11 because the official story behind it “is a fraud.” Guantanamo Bay, a prison for suspected terrorists, is being dismantled and detained terrorists will soon have a one-way ticket to any nation that will have them.
Another Obama initiative will transform September 11, 2009, into a National Day of Service that will turn a “day of fear” into a something “positive” and “productive.” Schoolchildren and citizens will be encouraged to join in community projects such as cleaning up litter, planting trees, etc. I wonder if those who died in service on 9/11 would feel honoured as kids, in the name of service, pick gum wrappers off the road?
Apparently, America’s leaders believe it’s too morbid and unproductive to spend an entire day actually thinking about those who were killed and those who sacrificed their lives to rescue others.
But the terrorists won’t forget. This week, Robert Fowler, the Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped and held for four months by al Qaeda terrorists, told the CBC the terrorists held regular “movie nights,” where they would use a laptop to play—and replay—videos of terrorist acts against Americans. They viewed the 9/11 images over and over, prompting Fowler to say, “I had seen the twin towers come down 400 times.”
Remembering the dead means nothing if we don’t remember why they are dead. Honouring those who made sacrifices means nothing without remembering the significance of those sacrifices in their proper context. If we remember the people who died on this day, yet forget the context of their deaths in our fight against terrorism, we are right back in our September 10 mindset.
So much for our miraculous and permanent transformation into patriotic citizens determined to fight evil.