Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten Years Later: The Lessons of 9/11

Soon we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the day that changed contemporary American life forever. We as a nation stand embroiled in two endless wars. We created a homeland security sector of the government, we feel less naive, more vulnerable, and less certain of ourselves as a country. Airport experiences are more of a nuisance, but when it comes down to it, on a day to day, basic level, has 9/11 changed the lives of the masses in America? Obviously, those who actually lost friends and family in the attacks, those who suffered trauma from the attacks, their lives have been changed irrevocably and I dont mean to make light of their burden and suffering, but for most Americans, even most New Yorkers, does it matter, does it affect our lives, or better yet, do we care? Do we care about the politics, has it made us more active in anyway, whether in a need to know more about world politics, or in the desire to help other people, or to bridge cultural gaps? I don’t know.
This isn't to say that the day isn't vividly stained on our memories. We can all remember where we were when we first heard the strange news. I was in class, Jewish History class in my junior year in high school, with a teacher who we made fun of most of the time, and someone came in an announced the news, “A plane hit one of the Twin Tower,” and like that this bearer of awful news flew away probably to tell another class.  At first, we all laughed. We didnt actually understand, or we couldnt understand the words. A plane hit the Twin Towers. Apparently, when an event falls so far out of the range of expectancy or normalcy it takes your brain some time to actually process it. We thought a dinky little toy plane crashed into one of the windows. We simply, as 16 year old teenagers ,could not fathom the actual destruction. As people obsessed with events of terror we knew of terrorism, in Israel, we knew of bombs tearing through restaurants, but like so many other people, in our minds, that danger stayed out there, never in our home. This supposedly, was different.
The administration then ran an ad hoc assembly in which they attempted to allay our fears, though I dont remember many of us fearing anything in particular, because as teenagers it takes something truly personal to break through our shell of self-involvement and insecurities. Some people cried, I think. Some parents immediately took their children home for reasons I didnt fully understand then. No one really knew much of anything, and some people started to use the day as social currency. “Well, I saw ash rise from the roof, I saw it with my own eyes. Well I found a document floating in the air.” Some teachers allowed their classes to watch the news, to watch the towers fall in real time, while others, like myself and my group of friends watched it on endless replay later as we got home. Traffic came to a standstill so my house, a mere ten minute walk from school, became a haven for six of my friends stuck in brooklyn. We all watched TV, hungrily waiting for news, seeing all the newscasters without their jackets on, sweat all over their face, and a strange look of calm as they continuously replayed that famous footage. But even on that day, on that day itself, we ended playing video games, probably mario kart, or mario tennis, or more likely goldeneye, because what else could we do?
Eventually, it seems, we as a people acclimated. Life continued, we forgot the fear and striking excitement of the day. We laughed at the anthrax jokes, at the random color coded levels of alert, and life went on day in and day out, and for me, as I imagine for many others nothing actually changed, at all. We went to war, I think I watched some of it on TV, possibly I argued about it, but most likely not. We went to war again, and again, I watched it on TV and definitely did not argue about the merits of invading Iraq. I knew nothing about the details, and I still no very little about the details. As a people we’ve grown tired of the wars, but dont seem to care that much how to end them.
I’m not sure what this says about me, or if I am correct in my generalizations, about my generation that 9/11 is a blip on our radar. In fact, 9/12, strangely represents a more important day, the day David Foster Wallace hanged himself. But I imagine I am not alone in my apathy. I dont know anything about the two wars. I dont read the news about them, I dont know the names of the general, or the stages set up to lessen the presence of our troops their. I dont know how the number of casualties. For the most part, If you asked me is my country at war i would know to say yes, but the words would feel false. I dont know if this brings up some pressing questions such as: Why do most of us care so little about politics? Is it the more pressing economic needs, because even then most of us do not care about the process or the details of the economic plan, we just want happy results. Is it embarrassment at the outcomes, or lack thereof, of the wars? Why do movies that discuss the topics of our wars, and 9/11 mostly fail? Do we need more distance, or do we simply not care.
Does this experience, our general ability to simply keep calm and carry on, speak to resilience or to apathy, and how can you tell the difference between the two? What would it look like to take the “lessons” of 9/11 to heart? Are there lessons of 9/11? Is it that America is a vulnerable state that needs to beef up its security, its military, or is it that we need to understand extremism better and fight it not with similar tactics military prowess but with understanding and connection, is that a pipe dream? For the most part, as an American and a human being I feel the pain of the loss, of the victims murdered on that day, and on the loss of life the fight on terror continues to take, but as an American citizen, I feel wholly at a loss to understand the lessons of the day, and as the start of a pretty widely agreed upon awful decade I feel some lesson from history must be heeded, but what, I do not know. I’ve read the tenth anniversary remembrances from different magazines, intellectuals, and cultural critics, and I still dont know what to think. We like our historical lessons to be clear: never forget, tyranny fails etc. but I cant seem to think of anything concrete to think about on this upcoming day of remembrance, anything tangible to inculcate into my life. Maybe I am alone in these sentiments, but if not, then I think that scares me the most. 
Thanks for reading, 
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