Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: September 11, 2001

Where were you when you first heard or saw the news? My wife and I were getting ready for work. This was before kids, so we always had the TV tuned to the local news as we got ready. At around 5:50am PST, the local news cut away to a special report, saying that apparently, an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center and one of the towers was on fire. At that time, they didn't know if it was an accident or what kind of plane it was.

As my wife and I watched the smoke rise from the gaping hole in the top of the North Tower, I watched another airplane flash into view from the right side of the screen. It disappeared behind the towers, and then a split second later, a giant fireball filled the screen. I'm sure you have seen this footage yourself.

It is crazy how the mind works during a stressful moment. Even after I watched the second plane fly into the South Tower, I will always remember my first thought, which was, "Man, there is some air traffic controller who is royally screwing up." My mind still hadn't wrapped itself around the fact that this was a terrorist attack! Talk about having a "September 10th" mentality.

As the morning quickly unfolded, my wife and I had to continue getting ready for work. But when news came in that the Pentagon had been hit as well, that is when I called my parents. My Dad answered the phone, and I will always remember what I said. I asked, "Are you watching the TV?" He said he wasn't. I told him, "Turn on the news right now!"

I wasn't teaching in 2001; I was still working full time at the California National Guard State Headquarters in the Inspector General office. I had called in earlier to ask if they wanted us to come in and they said to wait and they would call. They finally did call at about 6:45am and said come in to work. It was during my drive to work that the news on the car radio announced that the South Tower had collapsed. That was 6:59am PST. I got into my office and the rest of the staff already had the TV on. We watched the North Tower collapse at 7:28am PST. After the North Tower collapsed, the leadership at the CalGuard HQ changed their minds and sent everyone home. My wife was not so lucky. She attempted to teach her 1st graders for the rest of the day, but not much teaching was accomplished. She was told that she could not talk about it with her class (understandable with six year olds). Every recess she shuffled her students out as fast as possible so she could turn on the TV. As for me, I spent the rest of the day in front of the television with a perpetual look of astonishment on my face. When one of the newscasters said that, based on how many people worked in the World Trade Center on a typical day, as many as 30,000 people could have been killed, I burst into tears.

As the day wore on, I also tried to digest the news that a fourth plane had been crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. By the time my wife got home, she and I were both absolutely numb.

In the years since that awful day, our entire society has changed. Life has almost become Orwellian, as we live in an increasingly repressive police state with the TSA molesting and manhandling us at the airport; we live in a state of perpetual warfare in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya ("We have always been at war with Eastasia"); and through laws like the PATRIOT Act, the federal government has the ability to conduct surveillance on Americans that, while the feds insist now that abuses of these laws cannot happen, there is no guarantee that these laws will not be abused in the future, if they are not being abused already. Creeping tyranny in this country has become so pronounced that, more often than not, I question which I should fear more: Islamic terrorism or the actions of my own federal and state governments? What should I fear more: the one in lightning-strike chance that I or my family could be killed in a terrorist attack, or the almost 100% chance that the legislature and governor of my home state of California are - through Assembly Bill 144 - about to shut off any method for me to defend myself and my family with a firearm? What should I fear more: A one in a lightning-strike chance that Islamic terrorists will kill me or my family, or a fifty-fifty chance that due to job-killing and crony-protecting laws, regulations, and spending passed by the federal government, my wife and I will lose our livelihoods, our home, and God knows what else?

My children were born in 2004 and 2006. They will never know an America as it existed before September 11, 2001; just as I, having been born in 1972, will never know the America that existed before the national cultural and financial upheaval that began in the mid-to-late 1960s. Even after the 1960s ended, I like to think that the United States still enjoyed just a smidgen of innocence in the decades that followed. I believe that smidgen of innocence was extinguished on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and I don't know if we will ever get it back. The thought that my children are growing up in the roiling cauldron that is Post-9/11 America pains my wife and me to no end.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson

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