As Florida deals with all-that-is Hurricane Irma, I see what always surrounds a big, dangerous event. Amidst lines for gas and scrambles for AA batteries, micro-communities united and unite still, not only with goodwill, but with a sense of excitement some are ashamed to admit even having. On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we can actually see some similarities between dealing with a natural disaster and how our nation reacted in a brief but unprecedented cohesion.
Today we aren’t trying to appeal to your emotions, which is often the case for such an anniversary. This year we only present a question: have you thought at all about what your life would look like if 9/11 never happened? Where do you see yourself? It’s hard not to consider at some point how it influenced us, for good and for ill. For every Purple Heart… there is a post 9/11 GI Bill success story, and for every well-versed international relations major now working… there is someone in the ground who otherwise may not have been.
Look now— a 48-year-old man, did his twenty years in the military and is out. His group spent their first 10 years training in peacetime and their bloody last ten putting their training to the test producing some of our biggest in-house heroes and legends. We 28 to 38 year olds were virtually made by the wars that followed. It’s on our bodies as scars and tattoos, lathered on the back of our cars and trucks as bumper stickers and plates, it’s pushed us into specific educations and careers after service, and branded us the Core of the GWOT. And then we have the group that intrigues some the most; 18 year olds in boot camp today who have lived their entire conscious lives not knowing their nation not in some degree of boots-on-the-ground warfare.
Tragedy has a way of defining time periods, even generations—the whole where were you when JFK got shot type of thing. 9/11 didn’t just change New York City and Washington DC, and it didn’t just lead us to armed conflict, it changed the world.
There was a short-lived quote that circulated in the days right after the attacks. It was something to the tone of “The USA was the world, now it is just a part of the world.” I’m inclined to agree. Seeing the world through solely a national lens was obliterated for many, and suddenly we saw that two vast oceans weren’t perfect insulation. And before long all the elements of national culture were soon hotly debated.
Pick your topic; a decade ago, when the four horsemen of atheism were at their height on the world-stage, this was due to religion being discussed on a brand new scale. This was because for many September 11th was the first time they heard the word “jihad”— September 12th “Sunni” and “Shia”—and then around the 13th the Judeo-Christian responses from the whiter side of the world. But it hasn’t been all arguments about Hell and metaphysics, we’ve seen largely because of the resulting wars the slow but insistent focus on (re)vitalizating the VA. Our military converted from cold-war era to one far more focused on low-intensity conflict. And the list can continue.
As is the case with all massive calamities, as 9/11 drifts further away with each passing year, the grief, unity, and call to action drift in large doses right along with it. This enrages some—claiming we forget too quickly. Yet it may also be a testament to human resilience; that we move on and past the traumas that dot our lives.
If there is a moral charge today, it is to evaluate not only the sacrifices that came with the aftermath, but where it has put us as individuals, and how to best push forward from here.