Reflections on (America’s) Remembrance Day
What was I doing when the planes hit the World Trade Center & the Pentagon? Honestly…I was asleep. I’d been up way too late the night before, hanging out with friends while watching “Con Air” for the first time; and, being a grad student with a cushy assistantship, my work hours were a bit more flexible than the standard 9-to-5. The lady in whose house I was boarding had long since left for work, so I had no notion of what had happened until, perchance, I bumped into a friend in the physics building (where I worked). As she narrated the morning’s events – first a plane hit one of the WTC towers, followed by a second plane hit the other, and a third one striking the Pentagon – my thoughts rapidly swung from, “Wow, that’s a heck of an accident,” to “Oh, hell, we’re under attack.” Then I was on my work computer, simultaneously attempting to 1) gather more info on the attacks, and 2) email my family to let them know I was okay. I wasn’t the best at keeping in touch under normal circumstances; however, being cognizant of my target-rich surroundings, I figured some reassurance was in order.
Of course, I didn’t get any work done that day. I don’t think anybody did where I was. My only other memory of the “workday” was a moment of blinding rage, which in turn bought to mind these lines from “Babylon 5”:
“They deserve no mercy. Strike them down, follow them to their base and…and kill them, all of them, ALL OF THEM! NO MERCY!”
Ironically, that recollection served to calm me, as I also recalled the events that (in the B5 storyline) were triggered by that utterance.
Eventually, went home with some friends; for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like being alone at that time. We watched recycled news footage from the morning all afternoon, while I gradually got in touch with my family & friends. In most cases, this was routine; but one of my college friends actually worked in downtown Manhattan, and saw the WTC go down. I was quite reassured to hear her voice….
As for the long-term effects:
1. Although, intellectually, I’d always understood the importance of the military & national defense, 9/11 brought this home to me. That said…9/11 didn’t factor into my decision to become a Marine; I’d already decided that over a year prior, and I was simply waiting to finish grad school before enlisting. 9/11 merely reinforced a decision already made. Indirectly, it did affect the course my life subsequently took, since it’s hard for me to imagine the Iraq war – and hence my deployment to that country – occurring sans 9/11.
2. Prior to 9/11, my attitude towards the rest of the world was a good deal more cosmopolitan; and I found it easier to see myself as a “citizen of the world”. After 9/11, my outlook became more nationalist, more unilateralist, more prone to favoring American interests over those of other nations.
3. My flirtation with neoconservative neocolonialism began soon afterwards. This was due to several factors: a) a pre-9/11 encounter with this essay in Parameters; b) the influence of neocon friends; and c) my pre-9/11 belief that the existence of failed states & poverty abroad could be largely boiled down to bad governance. This infatuation persisted for a couple of years, but started to ebb when I attended several Marine Corps briefings on the Iraqi culture (as a prelude to my deployment to that troubled land).
As for the things that didn’t surprise me about 9/11 (or the aftereffects thereof):
1. The tactics employed in the attack. As an avid Clancy fan, who’d read Patriot Games, The Sum of All Fears, and Debt of Honor, I was well aware of the potential threat posed by terrorism, along with the notion of suicide-bombing-via-civilian-airliner. Indeed, a little over 5 yrs prior to 9/11, I was briefly a member of a Tom Clancy newsgroup, which one day featured an avid discussion of how to defend a city (say, Washington, DC) from such an attack. Lots of guys with military experience in that NG; and “TC” himself even made appearances on occasion.
2. Existence of people who hated us: I’d paid some attention to foreign affairs in the years preceding 9/11; the notion that our foreign policy might generate hatred abroad was therefore unsurprising to me.
3. I found much of Americans’ response to 9/11 – e.g., desire for retaliation; occasional xenophobia; support for military – unsurprising, given the obvious analogy to Pearl Harbor.
4. The use of emergency powers: Unlike most Americans, I’d previously made a hobby of reading about the exercise of emergency powers in previous wars (e.g., Civil War, WWI, WWII), and was therefore unsurprised by the post-9/11 use of such powers by Bush et al. From early on, my preference was for Bush to obtain Congressional sanction for the use of such powers, in keeping with the examples of Lincoln & FDR. I found his failure to do so (barely) acceptable, given the possibility that Congresscritters more concerned about civil liberties than security might deny such sanction.
5. The notion that America wasn’t immune to threats: I grew up during the tail end of the Cold War, and remember worrying about nuclear war. The notion that we lived in a dangerous world was hardly foreign to me. Moreover, while many Americans’ “holiday from history” might’ve lasted a decade, for me it lasted little over a year: from our victory in Desert Storm, ’till I read “The War in 2020” (which imagined a world wherein America wasn’t on top). I walked away from that book a bit less sanguine about our position in the world.
…And that’s all I have to say about that.
(*) Besides the obvious, my use of this term is also a reference to Harry Turtledove’s Timeline-191.