Wednesday, September 11, 2013

12 years - what have we learned?

It's been twelve years since we witnessed the beginning of the age of fear, also known as the Post-9/11 era. Twelve years since thousands of people rained from the sky either in planes or buildings. Twelve years since we felt safe - at least here in the DC area. Or perhaps I should amend that statement, twelve years since we felt completely safe.

Sure, we feel safer than we did twelve years ago. After all, the master mind behind the worst terror attack short of Pearl Harbor is dead by our hands, and there hasn't been a terror attack on our soil in years. At least not one from a foreign source - we're not quite sure what to call all the school and movie theater shootings. So, we feel safer. And yet...

There is still this tingling at the back of our skulls, you know the one. It's the tingling that makes you walk faster in a dark parking lot, or avoid certain alley ways. It's the tingling that makes you go back to check that the iron/curling iron/stove is off, or the door is locked. It's that sense that although everything seems right there may be something a bit off.

We've gotten used to this feeling. We've also gotten used to having a hair trigger when we feel as though we are being attacked. The instant we hear of something that may be wrong in the world we make it personal and come back at it ten fold. Our collective finger is on the trigger, focused on our defense consequences be damned. We, as a nation, are fighting PTSD and I am not sure we are winning that particular war.

September 11, 2001 was the worst day I have ever experienced followed by the worst mourning I have ever witnessed. It has been followed by 12 years of war, 12 years of fighting a nearly invisible enemy in two different countries, one of which may or may not have been involved at all, with no true goal other than to hit back and hit back hard.

We've done that. We hit them. We took down their governments. We helped rebuild a rudimentary democracy. We left blood on the battlefield, both ours and theirs. We took the head of the serpents - Bin Laden and Hussein - and left their bodies twitching in the sand. We took a region that was already a tinder box and lit a match creating far more chaos and instability in a desert starved for water, but rich in oil. We ignited old hatreds and tribal rivalries, pitted ancient religions and the sects within those religions against each other again hoping that out of the chaos we created the region will emerge looking somewhat like us.

At least that's what I think we are hoping for. I am not quite sure, this has not been a typical war with typical goals. Beat the Kaiser (World War I); Take Hitler and his allies (World War II); Beat back communism (Korea, Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam); Keep Sadam Hussein out of Kuwait (Gulf War I.) Please don't get me wrong, I am just as happy we are rid of some of the very nasty individuals we hunted down Post 9/11. I just wonder sometimes if perhaps we sold a very dear part of our national soul to achieve this goal and what will cause us to stop chasing after ghosts.

We should always remember. Those of us who were old enough to be aware of the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC need to record our memories and pass them down to our children and then to their children. What happened that day, that week and all the years after have shaped our nation and it is important that they know why we are now the way we are.

It is also important that we remember something else that came out of this national tragedy. Something that rose from the ashes that drifted down from the towers that were once the World Trade Center, and crawled out of the hole in the only building I ever thought to be invincible if only because it has five sides and not just four, to give hope to those of us who witnessed the horror that we could, as a nation, survive even this horrific tragedy.

In a nation of people so intent to ensure that every man, woman and child stands on their own independent of assistance of any kind we did exactly the opposite when faced with the tragedy of September 11. We ran towards the tragedy. We helped each other. We leaned on each other to keep each other from falling. For those first few weeks it was less important to run into battle and far more important to ensure the person standing next to you at the grocery store, on the Metro/subway platform, or sitting at the desk down the cube row had a shoulder or an ear if they needed it. We sang songs before baseball games and honored the heroes who saw the unspeakable tragedy up close. We ran towards each other, not towards war with guns blazing. We chose to build ourselves back up before we shot a single bullet in the desert.

That is the nation we should be proud of. And the nation that, after twelve long, exhausting years of war, we need to return to.

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