Not since JFK’s assassination had the country experienced an event so impactful that everyone remembers where he or she was that day. Every generation has their moment and ours is where we were on 9/11/01. Parts of the day, and subsequent days are blurry, but some parts are so clear, it seems unfathomable that it is already 10 years later.
I was a sophomore in high school, in a suburb of Chicago, and I was in first period sitting in Mr. Cohen’s algebra class. I was in the second seat, in the second row on the right side of the room. My friend Abbey was caddy corner to my right. Mr. Cohen was an older little man who loved teaching. Always the goof, he tried to make learning math fun. On the morning of 9/11, I remember a woman coming to the door and insisting to speak with Mr. Cohen in the hallway. When he returned, he had a look on his face that was chilling. The class was silent. He was no longer bubbly, but very grave. You could hear the ticking of the clock. We knew immediately something was up. My first thought was that it was something personal to him or his family. I think he read a pre-written memo, but I could be mistaken. He stood in the front of the room and braced himself as he said, “We’ve been attacked. A plane has been hijacked and hit The Twin Towers in New York.”
I don’t remember much else of what he said, because I was confused, trying to process it. I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were at that time and I didn’t fully grasp the weight of the situation. But he continued to explain all that was known at that time. Class was dismissed immediately and we all went to large classroom with a projection screen. At first the school tried to carry on as normal, but everyone was glued to the TV watching the events as they unfolded, listening to the newscasters try to explain this breaking news, while attempting to stay professional. I remember wondering if the news was taking this story and sensationalizing it into a bigger story than it really was because it wasn’t clear at that time that it was a terrorist attack, only speculation. I was in disbelief. We were all numb to what was happening outside of our school walls. Some of us were sure it had to be an accident, why and who wanted to attack America? To our knowledge, all was peaceful and right in the world. Oh, how naïve, we were! But then, the TV anchors told us that another plane had hit the Pentagon, and then later another was hijacked in Pennsylvania. This couldn’t just be a coincidence anymore. The school turned the main gym into a TV room/consoling room, and everyone was asking questions that no one knew the answers to. We watched together in horror as the towers crumbled. There were people crying and running to see the social workers. Students and teachers were making frantic phone calls to friends and family. We were released a bit early from school that day, only to go home to be glued to the TV some more. We went from worrying about who liked who, test scores, and all the petty high school drama that seemed like such monumental issues at the time, to instantly forgetting that any of it existed; at least for the time being. It was like all of our own little bubbles popped.
I am thankful I did not have any family or friends in the Towers, or on any of the planes. We, as a nation, were terrified. The stock market did not open on 9/11 and didn’t reopen until 9/17. People were scared to leave their homes, afraid of what might happen next. People cancelled vacations and stocked up their homes with non-perishable items. Would the draft become mandatory? For who? There was so much uncertainty and confusion. My sister was supposed to study abroad the following spring, but that was cancelled. Rumors flew rampant that cities like Chicago, L.A or Houston were next to be attacked with threats of poisoning our water systems, using trains, more planes or anthrax. Whether or not there were more threats, we’ll never know the truth. Rational or not, most of the time it felt like the Government wanted to keep us scared, to justify going to or staying at war. We, as a nation, were also suddenly unified and extremely patriotic. People launched at the opportunity to donate blood and volunteer to find victims. We supported each other. We flew the flag on our homes and cars. We were proud to defend our country.
All the other details have escaped me into a blur. How much is truly remembered? I remember where I was, I remember watching the second tower getting hit and falling and even reacting to it in the classroom but I can’t replay the footage in my mind. I don’t physically remember watching it live, but I know I did. Some memories you can press play and watch it again; but not for me with the towers falling, the United Flight 93, or the following days.
The War On Terror began as we sent our troops in retaliation after Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. We, citizens of America, supported this war; after all we thought we’d been innocently attacked. America used to be like a teenager. We had a false sense of invisibility. Then we were attacked, and we became vulnerable and attacked back. We put a face on terror and went after Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.
Now it is 10 years later. Where are we now? Hussein was executed on Dec. 30, 2006, and we finally caught Bin Laden on May 1, 2011. Yes, we were relieved when Osama was finally found (not in a cave, I’ll remind you) and killed, under President Obama’s Administration. I was livid when I heard people were celebrating and dancing in the streets. We were furious with our enemies when we saw footage of them cheering about 9/11, and for some people to go and do the same about Osama’s death- makes us no better than the other guys. Somewhere along the line what we were fighting for became blurry. The War on Terror suddenly became The War on Iraq and Afghanistan, or The War Where We Looked For Oil or The War On… Wait What Are We Fighting For? 9/11 changed our outlook on just about everything. How we fight in battle changed. Security got amped up to Red alert. We no longer could greet people at the gates. Our carry-ons had 3 oz liquid limits. People began to focus their ‘racial profiling’ towards people of Arab descent and the Muslim community. We were on high alert about everything. Everything was blamed on terrorism. For weeks, even months after, people felt guilty ‘moving on.’ Since the attacks, we have spent trillions of dollars. Our economy and relationships have not been the same since.
I’ve watched special after special about the attacks. I’ve watched reports on conspiracy theories. I see the magazine covers and news reports that happen on the anniversary each year. I know I am supposed to remember and mourn for the nearly 3,000 that died that day. And I do, believe me. But to be honest, and not to seem insensitive here, I feel more like each year it has turned into a media frenzy, an attempt to grab ratings with the specials. And then there are people using 9/11 as a tactic to attract readers. This bothers me immensely. Just because it is 10 years later, does not mean it belongs in your headline. Seriously, what does a CTA shooting in 1977 or Nascar themed car wash have to do with 9/11? NOTHING. I tweeted back asking this, and received no response. If not to pluck at people’s vulnerability on the subject or to grab ratings, why connect the headlines?
Every year it is the same thing, is the 10th year really any different? We are still at war. Still losing thousands of innocent lives, both our enemy’s and our own. We’re still on Orange alert and now we have unnecessary, full body scanners at the airports. We have gone through a massive depression and recession, and about 9% of people are unemployed. The only difference to me is the amount of time that has passed.
It has been a decade, 10 full years, since our lives as a country completely changed. 10 years of fighting. We’re still at war. There is talk that there might be an anniversary attack. Is this to scare us and keep us on alert again? Personally, I doubt the terrorists would attack on the anniversary, especially when we have our guard up.
At the same time, it is hard for me to sit here and say that the newspapers and networks do it for the ratings, because by the same token while it might feel that way sometimes, if they didn’t annually commemorate, they would be criticized for forgetting. But then I have mixed feelings as to why we only remember once a year? I know we actually think about it year round, but we only bring it up publicly on the anniversary. Anytime we meet someone with the birthday 9/11 or just hear that date, it is forever ingrained into our brains to remember. There are people who lost everything that day. Real people, not just faces on a magazine cover. While we’re not in high school anymore, the petty drama has resumed. Yes, the world must go on. But we were patriotic and unified, what happened to that unity? Democrats and Republicans are battling it out again every day. While we may NEVER FORGET it happened, perhaps we have forgotten our patriotism, our focus, and that we all were once proud to stand together as Americans.