Even from the time I went to sleep on September 10th, I knew September 11, 2001, was going to be a big and important day. Why? Because it was the day the cable company was scheduled to come by (between 9 and noon), to install cable where I lived. This turned out to be something of a mixed blessing.
My roommate woke me up at around 7am by knocking on the door and telling me to turn on my TV. I did, and was immediately astonished at what I was seeing. I seem to remember that I tuned in not too long before the first tower collapsed. It was a sight both great and terrible and I had no idea what to make of it. Then the reports came in about the crash at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
We didn’t have cable, but we did have the internet, so I hoped on and began trying to find out what I could. I heard rumors about things like a car bomb outside the State Department, something which thankfully wasn’t true. I also watched in great horror as the second tower came down, and called my mom and my dad to talk with them about what was happening.
The cable installer was right on time, arriving shortly after 9am. He got the cable installed and suddenly we had 150 or channels at our disposal, almost all of which were rebroadcasting CNN. I stayed glued to the TV for pretty much all that day and most of the next. And then, like everyone else, except the so-called “truthers,” I went on with my life.
Our country did change that day, but it didn’t change even slightly for the better. Before September 11, 2001, it would have been unthinkable for our nation to sanction the use of torture. We never would have held people indefinitely without charges or trial. Our government wasn’t allowed to monitor phone calls of American citizens without warrants. Mosques could be built without people raising an eyebrow. The security measures we’ve put into place in our airports would never have been tolerated. Tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq would not be dead. We wouldn’t be stuck in two foreign wars, one of which wasn’t even remotely necessary.
Our country was severely damaged that day, but not by the terrorists who knocked down some buildings and killed a crapload of people. Our country was damaged by ourselves and our leaders, who sold out the notion of civil liberties and freedom in return for a perception of security that everyone knows is false anyhow. We have become a lesser, damaged country that ignores the principles we want everyone else to uphold.
It’s been ten years since the attacks, and arguably that’s because of what we’ve done. I’m sure the increased security probably helped a bit, but I doubt it was the main reason we haven’t been attacked. The main reason is that, on that day, AL-Qaeda got lucky. Very lucky. We had a president who was asleep at the switch and ignored reports with titles like “Al-Qaeda Determined to Attack Targets in the United States,” and no one had ever really tried to do something like this before. This was a one-off, and even without the insane security measures and curtailment of rights and freedoms, likely we still wouldn’t have been attacked by them again in any notable way.
Glenn Beck did something a couple years back called “9/12” or somesuch. It was about returning people to the mindset we had the day after the attacks, when we were one country pulling together. I’d much rather we go back to 9/10, when we were a country that stuck to its guns on issues of freedom and democracy. A country that took a far greater threat in the form of Nazi Germany and still played by the rules of war and still give the Nazis trials rather than holding them forever.
One day, with luck, we’ll go back to being the country we were on September 10, 2001.