The post-9/11 world is the only one I’ve ever known. And, in a lot of ways, Sept. 12, 2001, was maybe the last time I felt Americans united.
Like nearly everyone reading this, I remember where I was. I was in my fifth-grade art class. Somewhere between the two towers falling I’d made a rose out of paper mache. Mrs. McCartney had the radio on when we returned to class – she never listened to that radio. We were then told what we knew at the time and immediately looked out the northeast-facing windows of the room to try and see smoke from our south-central Nebraska classroom.
Then came the realities. The piling death tolls of tragedy in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Of course, we automatically thought of retaliation – something bad happened to America, so something bad needed to happen to someone else. And in our vulnerability came approval for the various acts committed in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay.
The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the mastermind of 9/11 – and four co-defendants that resumed this week should be the culmination of all those feelings we felt 20 years ago. Instead, it’s hardly a blip on the radar.
Over the past 20 years American troops went into multiple countries to fight terrorism. It was told of weapons of mass destruction, which there never were any. Over the course of four presidencies, hundreds of elected officials and an entire generation, trillions of dollars were spent and countless lives were lost.
Then came the fracture between pro- and anti-war. Then everything after.
During that same 20 years, on our home soil, we’ve encountered pretty much everything. Natural disasters, mass shootings, two economic recessions, protests over myriad reasons, a prescription drug epidemic, a coronavirus pandemic, various acts of domestic terror, mad cow disease and an attempted violent overthrow of American government.
Twenty years after the most traumatic foreign attack of my lifetime and the greatest threat to America is Americans.
Somewhere we’ve lost our way. Maybe we were offended by our own vulnerability and responded with never-ending aggression. In the end, it cost bits of humanity.
Sorry to those who lost loved ones in the attack upon America and the ensuing wars. All of you deserved better.