Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I realize it's September 13th, and a few days after seemingly every news media outlet on this continent did their own form of reflection upon the tragedy that was September 11th, 2001. But I was off having a romantic weekend with the most amazing woman in the world, so you'll forgive me if I didn't get around to posting my own reflections of that unforgettable day.

I was in college at the time, and living in Cambridge, Ontario with 4 other room mates. I dragged myself out of bed a little before nine, and was ready to take my morning shower to officially wake myself up for my class. On the way to the bathroom, one of my room mates stopped me and alerted me to the fact that a plane had 'accidentally' crashed into one of the World Train Center buildings. It was all over the news, and the reason that cartoons wasn't being watched at the apartment for a change. I had recently read about someone with a small plane that had some how got off course and accidentally flew into a building, so it was fresh in my mind when I viewed the smoking World Trade Center. The newscasters at that moment seemed to reaffirm our beliefs that it was just a really awful accident. Then we all saw something that left us speechless. A second plane flew into the other tower. At that point, nobody could deny that the towers were under attack and this awful scene had been planned by some reprehensible humans.

It was one of the huge 'where were you' moments of my generation. I wasn't alive for the JFK assassination or when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the '72 Canada vs. USSR Summit series or the Selma to Montgomery civil right marches of 1965. I witnessed the second plane crash into the WTC building, and that image is forever burned into my memory.

I went to school that day, and asked a student if he heard about the attacks on the buildings. He thought I was joking. Now,I don't know what that says about how he viewed me as a person, but it does show how incomprehensible a terrorist attack in North America was. Most of us assumed we were at peace, or that at least, the hatred from opposing nations wouldn't lead to real attacks on American soil (which isn't the same as an attack on the actual country of Canada, but it is close enough to have an impact on us). It was surreal and most couldn't believe it had happened. But it did. The fall out was being felt immediately by many. We not only had some American students attending the school, but some of them had actual family members that were either living in New York or possibly flying that day. I am pretty sure none of the students lost family members to the tragedy (or at least, I've blanked out any announcements of it), but I know it was a day that took a huge emotional toll on many who desperately tried to confirm all their loved ones were safe. For several days, the campus was a very different place where everyone was focused on news coverage or still trying to work through all that was unfolding.

I was living in a city in Ontario, which was over half a days drive from New York. Yet it had left an emotional impact on so many people. I say this, because I can't imagine what college students in New York felt that day. I can't imagine the blow so many people felt and the fear that overtook them, when they realized a loved one could have been on that plane or in the towers. The realization that the good morning good bye may have been the last one they would ever say to that person. I can't imagine how that same person feels 10 years later.

I was in the 9/11 memorial centre in New York (near where the towers once stood) and I was emotionally moved by the stories and accounts I read there. The event impacted so many that lived in that city. I am sure for many, they are still feeling it today.

9/11 was a horrific and tragic event, but it was also an event that really has left a lasting mark on this world. Many things have changed because of that awful day. Many are not necessarily things I would have predicted, but many others were the exact things I feared would come to fruition after I started thinking about life post 9/11.

I knew this attack was going to lead to war. I remember talking over with buddies, and debating over if this was going to be the impetus of World War 3. If the emotion and fury was going to lead to something like conscription again. Would we (the young college student) be forced to enlist. What would the scale of the backlash truly be?

It became clear pretty soon that any worries about conscription was an overreaction or my emotion speaking. But America did finally have a new enemy and war was going to monopolize the newscasts for many years,

I was young when the Cold War was wrapping up. I do remember the hysteria of the 80s, and the numerous action films that came out about the righteous American ridding the world of the evil commies. I remember going to bed wondering if Russians would parachute into my school's playground ala Red Dawn. By the time the 90s came, America didn't seem to have a big bad anymore. There wasn't a major war that took all the time away from sitcoms and TV dramas, and there wasn't an enemy that we lived in fear of. Or at least, not one that the mass public was aware of like the 'red terror' of the past several decades. The reality is that the issues in the Middle East had been boiling for years, but it was 9/11 that a new and scarier enemy had emerged. One that could strike at any moment, and had already dealt a serious blow.

Fear has returned to being a part of life for many people. The talk of 'end times' has erupted ever since 9/11. We no longer feel this continent is invincible or safe from attacks. People feel vulnerable. Many are just waiting for the next attack to appear on the news. Unfortunately, some even have built businesses and reputations on the idea that attacks will happen again.

Now, I realize that not everyone is encased in fear. I honestly don't think about 9/11 or terrorists very much. I know many American friends that have put it in their past. But even without the fear, our lives have changed.

Before 9/11 all a Canadian needed to cross the American border was a birth certificate. I never even bothered to get a passport until a few years after 9/11. Now, you absolutely have to carry a passport. Some talk about the nightmares of being thoroughly searched and questioned when trying to cross. Now, the intense interrogations and searches was earlier last decade, but the need for a passport and tighter security is a lasting mark on the events of 9/11.

Air travel seems to be more and more of a chore. You often hear about the latest technology in security, and many who feel it is a violation of privacy. The precaution may not be necessary and the rulse may not need to be as tight, but the event of 9/11 has allowed each policy to get passed quickly. And for some, they're happier the measures exist and for others, it is a monumental pain in the ass (and loss of some rights).

Air travel is another that will always have an element of fear linger over it. I remember someone telling me about their experience on the plane, and how they were extremely nervous because a few 'Middle Eastern looking men' kept getting out their seats. Nothing happened. I am sure many still enter a flight with a small fear of another hijacking.

As for me, I just hate that I keep forgetting that things like shaving razors or bottled water or toothpaste are no longer allowed in carry ons. It isn't a big deal. I respect the policies. It is a lasting legacy of 9/11. Your shaving cream will no longer stick close to you as you board the plane.

The PATRIOT Act signed in October 26, 2001 restricted some key liberties for American citizens in order to increase the powers of law enforcement agencies. The Act has been revised and changed over time, but it has played a major part in how people have lived their lives and perceived their government. It has led to numerous debates over the years about how much control should the government be allowed and how important is safety when it opposes liberty. One's side of the argument usually came from how much one really did feel threatened.

One of the bigger tragedies is how innocent people can be harmed by atrocious acts they had nothing to do with. 9/11 unfortunately ushered in strong hate and fear towards the Muslim community. The sad thing is that many people before 9/11 may have either not known anything about the Muslim religion or possibly not even been aware of the religion's existence (with it being the fastest growing religion in the world that one may be a little harder to believe). After 9/11, everyone knew about Islam or Muslims, but sadly, a lot of the beliefs were misguided. Even worse, many decided to label the entire religion as terrorists and hold them responsible for what happened. Many decided to ignore the fact that Muslim Americans lost loved ones that day, and it was their country that was attacked too. Unfortunately, many had the added hardship of having to deal with added persecution. They had to deal with things like threatened Quran burnings or protest against the building of community centre sponsored by members of their religion. I have to admit I am not surprised by this backlash, but it breaks my heart (and pisses me off). It is important to remember that the discrimination and attacks only came from a few (and one intellect sucking 'news' station).

9/11 has also caused others to be more understanding and accepting. It has caused people to want to be more aware of world news. The United States was supported by several nations after the attacks. For a short time, the world really was united. The country united behind the tragedy felt by New York. Though many years have passed since and some have forgotten, I do think there is still unity and compassion from many that flows from the events of 9/11. There have been positives that came from that tragedy, despite the event being entirely evil.

I will never forget that day. I think the world and this continent will continue to feel the effects of what happened. 9/11 was a historic and unforgettable event in history. It is an event that we must look back and decide what caused it. What spawned a group of radicals to implement such an evil attack on so many innocent people. And what valuable lessons can we learn about it. I am not talking about policies and wars, but rather, as a community what can we learn and do to grow.

9/11 created heroes that day. Selfless individuals that sacrificed themselves to help others. It united a nation that supported each other as it came back from a bitter tragedy. There were stories of people showing selfless love and powerful compassion. It showed the strength of the human spirit and the possibility of goodness of mankind to rise above its evilness. I do have positive memories that came from that event. I hope it is those positives that continue and allow society to positively move forward post 9/11.

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