There’s been a lot of talk about 9/11 this week, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the tragedy of that day as well as what those tragic events engendered. It’s been a decade since a small group of hateful people committed atrocious crimes against humanity.
Almost half my lifetime has passed since then. I’ve been thinking about the past ten years. What has happened in that time?
-The day after 9/11 I wore a patriotic outfit to my middle school’s flagpole prayer memorial event (navy blue pants, white oxford, red mary janes and a red ribbon in my hair). That morning a bee flew really close to me, circling my body while we observed a moment of silence. I was terrified, but I knew this moment of silence was very important. I did not move or make any sound. Everyone talked about how Americans were coming together, helping each other, and generally demonstrating how we are Really Nice and Neighborly Despite Our Differences.
-Nine days later President Bush declared a war on terror, and soon after that, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. I remember being really confused. If the 9/11 attacks were planned by a small group of people, why invade a whole country?
-The immediately-post-9/11 friendly patriotism gave way to ‘You’re either with us or against us.’ There was a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes against people deemed ‘foreign’ or somehow ‘un-American.’ Lots of people slapped ‘Support Our Troops‘ magnets on their cars, and I heard over and over that now was not the time to consider whether this war was morally just.
-Toby Keith released this song.
-In March 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq under the pretext of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Again, I didn’t understand why we were going to war, and I wished we wouldn’t.
-For the first time, the country felt completely polarized. You were either a staunch Bush supporter who trusted the president no matter what and cared about the troops or you were a peace-loving liberal who gave no thought to the real individuals involved in on-the-ground conflict. It felt like there was no middle ground, and there were a lot of mean anti-Bush cartoons that weren’t about politics at all.
-I realized that I was opposed to war, in general, and the current U.S. conflicts, in particular. The 2004 election felt like the only way to stop the wars. I became a Kerry supporter and helped the eighteen year-olds at my high school register to vote. On election night, I took two TVs into my room and had them tuned to different channels. I kept them on all night, sleeping for short intervals and waking to see up-to-date elections results. It took a day for the final results to be tabulated.
-George W. Bush was re-elected. I had the sinking feeling that we would keep fighting these seemingly endless wars, at least until 2008.
-The United States grew ever-less popular. I feared more large-scale terrorist attacks.
-In September 2006, the president of Venezuela called Bush the devil at the United Nations.
-I applied to colleges and got ready to leave the nest. I marveled at how fortunate I was because the wars never directly affected me. I felt queasy that we could be at war this long without me or those close to me being very affected. It felt wrong.
-In college, I canvassed for Obama, cheered when he won the democratic primary, spent election night at an Obama office, making phone calls and helping people turn in their ballots (Oregon has a mail-in voting system).
-We watched the final returns at our school’s largest lecture hall. Obama won! I was incredulous. When I called my mom, she told me she was so excited that she had made steak…for the dogs!
-While people celebrated across the nation, I cried. I felt it to be a solemn victory. I thought about the U.S.’s racist history and all of the people who had died because of the wars in which we were involved and how now things would finally change. We had elected a candidate on the platform of hope. To me, that meant that the wars would end soon and that the post-9/11 sense of community and friendly patriotism would make a comeback.
-It didn’t exactly turn out that way.
-We are still at war.
-Our government is gridlocked, so no real progress is being made.
-Osama bin Laden, the figurehead believed to be responsible for the attacks of 9/11, was killed in May of this year.
-Americans celebrated his death hatefully. I wondered if we would ever change our international image from ‘We’re Better than the Rest of the World’ to ‘We Are a Part of the World.’
-I am still wondering.
Though not exhaustive, that list pretty much encapsulates what I’ll never forget about 9/11 and the past decade. Those hate-fueled attacks fueled a lot of hate in response. And now it’s like we are trapped in a mire of hate and war and so many deaths. I want the cycle to stop, and I want to help stop the cycle, but I don’t know how.
And you know what? As much as I feel saddened and weighed down by the wars and casualties and hateful rhetoric of the past ten years, mostly it has been a dark cloud that has followed me around distantly. I have been free to ignore it for days, weeks, months at a time. I have grown up with a background of war, but it has never been more than a background. I am so grateful for that.
To all of the people that haven’t been so lucky–all the kids my age who went to war instead of college, the families (American or not) who have lost members to the wars or the terrorist attacks, the people who have heard bombs drop around them for almost ten years and who have lived in fear of death, all those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the terrorists who squandered their lives on hate, the soldiers who enlisted for noble reasons and realized too late that they didn’t want to fight, the individuals tortured at Guantánamo, the military families who have had to live in a society that largely ignores these wars and does not give much support to the people who actually fight in them–all I can say is that I’m sorry. I cannot comprehend your suffering, and I fervently wish you did not have to endure it.