Archived Story

US never the same after 9/11

Published 10:47am Friday, September 9, 2011

A friend, the publisher of a small newspaper in the central United States, called my office on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Skipping the usual pleasantries, he began the conversation by saying, “Nothing is ever going to be the same.”

We had both just overseen the frantic, preliminary reporting on the morning’s horrific events in New York and Washington. Like the rest of America, and the world, we were stunned by the enormity of what we had seen on our television screens and were printing in our own newspapers.

“Nothing is ever going to be the same.”

He was right. The world did not suddenly tilt upon its axis, but looking 10 years back down the road, it’s clear that 9/11 intensified and highlighted some trends that were already underway.

We have Al-Qaeda terrorists to thank, for example, for the current security mania that has done so much to annoy people but so little to protect them. Walk into any building in Washington, D.C. — no place special, just a low-level museum or library — and you can expect to have your bag and person “searched,” haphazardly and lazily by people who clearly are just going through the motions.

Annoying, yes. Effective. No.

Much the same is true of airports where passengers physically are removed from their possessions and some of their clothes and then figuratively stripped naked by a high-tech scanner. The people looking at those images in a secret room somewhere off to the side are trained to ignore all that nakedness. Seriously.

We see this same passion for so-called security played out in many ways, even in places as far from the 9/11 epicenter as rural Minnesota where, for a period at least, armed security was placed in Social Security offices, of all places.

So the terrorists did manage to strip us of our dignity and cause us to, more or less, run in circles doing pointless and silly things just to be “doing something” about terrorism. That is probably not exactly what they hoped for.

The 9/11 tragedy did not cause this to happen. America has for decades been becoming more concerned with its safety and less concerned with loss of liberty. The destruction of the Twin Towers and damaging of the Pentagon merely played into and intensified that trend.

As our memories fade, there are inevitably a few landmarks that stick out after major events like Sept. 11. Who can forget where they were, or what they were doing, when they first saw images of the towers going down?

Although most day-to-day details of my childhood are lost in memory’s mist, I remember with crystal clarity sitting on the floor with other elementary school students watching Robert Kennedy’s funeral on television. In those days, watching television in school was an unheard-of rarity.

Nor am I going to forget being called in from the backyard to watch the first moon landing. Or years later watching coverage of the Challenger launch with an elementary school principal (I was doing some local tie-in story because there was a school teacher aboard that launch) when the shuttle disintegrated in mid-air.

Our older relatives and friends probably have similar recollections of Pearl Harbor, although those with living memory of that event are becoming fewer on a daily basis.

All of those events also changed things — some even more definitively than did 9/11. We can only hope that there won’t soon be another unforgettable event.

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