September 11, 2011

If We Don't Finish What We Started, The Terrorists Win

The morning of September 11, 2001

Ten years ago I was a new junior in high school. It was homework period in colorguard so I wore something a little cuter than normal because I didn't have to worry about getting them dirty spinning in mud. But when the carpool arrived, the mom shouted across the driveway to our mom that the World Trade Center went down. None of us knew what the World Trade Center was, but we could tell this was something big. At school, first period was homework and listening to the radio. I still didn't understand what was going on, only that terrorists from the Middle East somewhere flew our planes into two buildings in New York and a lot of people died.

I could grasp the seriousness of the situation but understanding it would take much of the next decade. Class that day consisted almost exclusively of teachers trying to answer questions and letting us mostly listen to the radio or do work silently. When I got home the news was on (it would stay on for a whole week) and both my parents were home. Over and over we watched as one plane after the other came out of absolutely nowhere to crash with incredible accuracy into the side of one of the tallest buildings in the world and stay there, burning a giant hole. Then we watched as smoke, ash, papers and debris flew over the streets of New York City covering citizens and firefighters from head to toe, people lying injured and bleeding, people running literally for their lives as cameras bravely rolled on. Then, we saw footage of people in the towers jumping from windows far, far too high. Many people jumped, which is something I still don't quite understand. That was perhaps the hardest thing to witness.

As a nation we were first shocked and scared, but we quickly turned to unity with one another and became angry, fully backing the war we'd just been brought into. Whatever it took to make the perps pay for the thousands of lives they cost (and the hundreds of thousands of lives that would eventually be lost) was justifiable.

Over the years America became overtly racist towards Muslims and anyone looking even remotely Middle Eastern. Then we started losing our own rights, one by one, in the name of protecting us from terrorists. First the Patriot Act, then losing virtually every freedom we had in airports, then allowing our phones and conversations and sometimes even our properties to be monitored by the government, all of which is justified by saying you have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide. What ever happened to "give me liberty of give me death?"

We've become so paranoid about another attack that we're willing to live in the shadow of fear for the rest of our lives or give up what were once basic rights. Because of one attempt we now have to take our shoes off at airports, plus all metal, plus go through a metal detector, and now (in addition to everything) body scanners that show our naked bodies and be pat down by a disgruntled and underpaid TSA employees. For what? Are we safer? Does turning over our nail clippers make us less likely to encounter another terrorist? I don't feel like it does.

However, I'd rather live with that risk and have an enjoyable life. I'd rather not be looking at every person with dark skin and a beard or a hijab and wonder if they're plotting against me. I'd rather take my chances when I fly than be forced to undress for a stranger. I'd rather live freely in the Land of the Free than be afraid of the police who are supposed to protect me, wondering if some innocent thing I do will be considered suspicious. But I feel alone in these preferences. So many of those I know would rather spend an hour in airport security half naked because it makes them feel safer in the air, or allowing phone tapping because, as true patriots, they have nothing to hide. If there's even a chance that these measures will prevent another terrorist attack they'll allow them, even if it impacts our way of life.

This is not what it means to be an American. If we were attacked for our way of life we should be living that way of life louder and prouder than ever. We should taunt those who hate us, beg them to try again. But we aren't. For the last ten years we've been afraid, deeply divided, and hateful of anyone that isn't us. We've given up on our schools, our economy, and fortifying the strength of our country on our soil in favor of "helping" other countries form democracies and ensuring our safety overseas.

What if we just said fuck it, we're done, we tried and we're calling quits. What if we stopped spending the billions on Iraq and Afghanistan and started spending that money on educating our kids so we can be even stronger in 40 years, or providing jobs to those who have been out of work for 6 months or more so we can have a strong and vibrant economy again? What if we cared about our people and our country half as much as we cared about other countries, and what if we spent our defense money on protecting our borders? I'd be very interested to see.

There are hundreds who died ten years ago saving, or trying to save, the lives of others, and hundreds of thousands of others deeply affected by September 11, 2001. I'm grateful I didn't lose anyone in those attacks, grateful those I know in our armed forces returned to their families, grateful I was as old as I was when the attacks happened. I'm sad to see the direction my country went after that day and I hope one day we turn around and can become the hopeful, strong, leading country we used to be again. I also hope those who lost someone due to the attacks and the wars that followed will heal and were OK today. Finally, I hope those lives weren't lost in vain and that something good will again come from all of this.

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