In the days and weeks leading up to this 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks on New York and Washington, pundits of all stripes have analyzed the issues involved in the nation’s reaction to the attack from every conceivable angle.
In a world that seems addicted to a never ending flow of information and infotainment, silence is a vacuum that cannot be accepted, so those provided with a medium for reviewing our collective psyche have done so at great length. We have been reminded of the deaths, the horrors of watching the towers burn and collapse, the human carnage, the loving families left behind, the political and social ramifications, the religious battlegrounds, the lifestyle changes, the economic impact.
It all seems too much. And yet, still not enough.
For most Americans, the terrorists attacks on our native soil represented a harsh reality we never expected to have to accept. While certainly no stranger to military conflicts around the world, an attack of this magnitude within the borders of our own country seemed incomprehensible. In truth, we had long been fortunate in that regard, and remain so. It was our first bitter taste of a bile often digested elsewhere.
Beyond the geographic realities of the assault was the fact that those who attacked us were not warriors sanctioned to fight in the military of a particular government, or flying a specific flag. Instead, they were an assemblage from different countries, different origins, united by radical religious beliefs and a common hatred of the United States.
Ten years later, we still can’t really understand. We never will.
It is too simplistic to say the world changed as a result of 9/11. Surely it did, just as it changed after Pearl Harbor, after Hiroshima, after Korea, after dozens of others wars, political upheavals and financial collapses. The world changed with the dissolution of the Soviet Republic, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Change is a constant in world affairs.
It is also simplistic to note that the attack changed the American way of life. It has, perhaps, but not dramatically, not really. We are more aware now of our vulnerabilities, more conscious of security, more willing to sacrifice freedoms for protection, but by and large our lives have returned to normal, or at least a new normal, in the decade since.
Perhaps the true lingering effect on the nation is that for those of a certain age there has been a loss of naivete, a bloodying of innocence. Too much had been taken for granted for too long, and our expectations of an idyllic position in world affairs crashed to the ground with the crumbling towers.
Future generations of adults will know better. They will have lived in the post 9-11 world, and the changes that seem so odd for many of us will be routine for them. They will know the nation’s enemies won’t always fly a military flag; they will know terrorism as a reality at home rather than as the problem of other nations.
Despite what the experts and pundits offer, each of us has our own, very personal perspective on the legacy of that fateful Tuesday a decade ago. If anything, the commemorative events of this weekend will serve to remind us that no matter how different we are individually, we are, as Americans, united by the bonds of something bigger.
When our country is injured, we all feel it. A decade later, the emotional journey from grief to anger to acceptance behind us, the pain is lessened, but the wounds are yet to heal. Perhaps they never will.