We changed on the day the World Trade Center fell. Just as it has been said that the death of Kennedy marked the end of innocence, I think the fall of the twin towers was the birth of a more cynical world. It ended an era of optimism
It was a beautiful morning on that fateful day ten years ago. Not a day you would expect anything bad to happen. The sky was a brilliant blue without a hint of a cloud. There was no smog or haze or fog, just a beautiful, clear blue sky. The temperature was not too hot or too cold but just perfect.
I turned to get a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator when breaking news came on the TV that the World Trade Center was on fire and it was thought a plane had hit it. As I stood there with the OJ in one hand and the open refrigerator door in the other, I watched another plane come into view and hit the second Trade Center Tower. I stood frozen not believing what I had just seen.
Many changes have happened over the last ten years because of those terrorist attacks. Our rights have been altered by the Patriot Act, our government handles events differently, our security procedures are much tighter, and travel rules have been introduced and strictly enforced. America has become more polarized politically, socially, and economically.
One of the most significant areas of change is in the travel department. Flying is not as carefree as it once was. Now people line up for inspections removing their shoes, belts, loose change, etc., they have their picture IDs ready and place small amount of liquids in separate bags. Everyone from grandmothers to small babies is subject to a body search. In addition, knives have been banned, curbside check-in dropped, and cockpit doors reinforced.
The TSA or Transportation Security Administration is in charge of security at airports, an organization that didn’t exist before 9/11. Homeland Security, another new department, issues threat level warnings. I remember traveling shortly after 9/11 and seeing armed military personnel guarding the airports. A chill went through my body as I watched them walk about carrying loaded rifles.
The airline industry has suffered great financial losses and many old, established companies have gone out of business and others merged. According to Business Insider, the airlines have lost a total of $55 billion since 2001. To compensate for the losses they have cut approximately 160,000 jobs. They have cut the number of seats on the flights and eliminated some destinations in an effort to consolidate.
The cost of oil has increased making airline travel prohibitive for many businesses and families. The airlines are now finding creative ways to make more money such as charging for checked baggage, food and drinks. One can no longer expect a meal while traveling. Even though they were sometimes only a little more tasty than cardboard, at least they were nourishing.
To avoid checked baggage fees, more people are limiting their luggage to carry-on only, thus creating more delays and frustrations while boarding. Some industry experts estimate that now as many as 59 million extra bags are being carried onto the planes each year. This creates longer lines and more confusion once on board as passengers try to stow their belongings in the overhead compartments.
Another change since 9/11 is an atmosphere of mistrust. We don’t trust the government, our legislators, neighbors, people who look different from ourselves, or those who worship differently. We have become a nation of us versus them, but I’m not sure who the “them” are. Is it the Protestants versus the non-Protestants, the Republicans/Tea Party versus the Democrats, the liberals versus the conservatives, the religious right versus the left, the rich versus the poor, or the haves versus the have-nots? Not only is there an atmosphere of mistrust but I fear it is also brewing a real hatred for those who don’t agree with us. Our nation has become more intolerant of others.
On one internet poll someone said that the credibility of the government went down with the towers. Conspiracy theories are everywhere. Did the towers actually implode? Did people high up in government know about or plan the 9/11 attack?
We are engaged in two wars but no one is really sure who the enemy is. Is it the people of Afghanistan or Iraq, the Taliban or al-Qaeda, or the Muslims? We can’t put a face on the enemy. We say we are fighting for freedom but yet we have sacrificed some of our own freedoms in the Patriot Act. We have eliminated Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden but yet the fighting continues.
For the first time in many generations our young people are growing up with a cloud of fear over their heads. They don’t remember a time when long farewells were common at the planes’ gates and seeing people waving as they watch their loved ones board the plane and taxi down the runway.
We must constantly be on the alert for anything out of the ordinary. Average citizens are now reporting seeing unusual packages and neighbors who act suspiciously. This tactic must be working because, according to The Daily Beast, forty-five terror plots have been foiled since 9/11. Each one was thwarted by a combination of intelligence work, policing, and citizen participation. Professor Erik Dahl of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. said, “When it comes to domestic attacks and securing the homeland, what works is really good, old-fashioned policing-law enforcement, tips from the public, police informants-and not so much spies overseas or satellites run by three-letter government agencies.” In addition, Muslim Americans have been cooperating with law enforcement to stop terrorist plots.
Even here in Columbus we aren’t immune to the threat of terrorist attacks. Three men with central Ohio ties have been sentenced to a total of 50 years in prison for plotting attacks. Homegrown local, Christopher Paul, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. He was trained by al-Qaeda and tried to recruit others to form a jihadist group. Paul met with Nuradin Abdi, from Somalia, and Iyman Faris, from Pakistan, at an Upper Arlington coffee shop to plot blowing up a local shopping mall. Abdi trained in Ethiopia and supplied Paul with credit card numbers to help fund their activities. Abdi is serving 10 years in prison.
Iyman Faris is serving 20 years in prison for admitting he also scouted the Brooklyn Bridge as a possible target for a terrorist attack. He provided al-Qaeda with plane tickets and cell phones and traveled to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden at a terrorist training camp.
The economy is also much worse now than ten years ago. Experts say for the first time in our nation’s history our children and grandchildren face the prospect of a less prosperous future than we had. Many factors go into our weakening economy including funding two wars and increased oil prices. Oil prices affect not only how much we pay at the pump but also the cost of food based on production and transportation costs. Heating and cooling our homes also cost more.
Robert Crews, director of Stanford’s Center for Russian East European, and Eurasian Studies, says the most striking change in the U.S. has been the emergence of a garrison mentality in the name of security. He says the U.S. is more intolerant and less curious about the world beyond the walls of the garrison. State legislatures have introduced harsh legislation against immigrants and demonized Islam. He adds that the study of foreign language, history, literature, and the arts—knowledge that might inform a dialogue with the “barbarians” is mostly ignored. He claims delusion has followed tragedy in the garrison state.
Another Stanford professor, Priya Satia, claims her three-year old is on the blacklist of the Department of Homeland Security because of his Arabic name. When she pointed out he was only three, she was informed that his name would be put on another list—individuals who sound like they might be terrorists but are not.
It does seem to be a bleaker world but there is hope. Experts say volunteerism is on the rise. We see dedicated military personnel determined to protect our nation at all costs. We also have dedicated civil servants working to see our government runs smoothly, and many dedicated teachers, doctors, and engineers who go to work faithfully every day to do their part for a better world. The American “can do” spirit is still alive.
In the words of John Avlon of the Daily Beast, “The civic resilience of the United States in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 is a testament to the power that free people have to overcome the forces of fear… America is the land of the free because we are the home of the brave.”
Yes, we have changed. But we can’t let the dark forces overshadow the good. We have survived ten years without another attack, as the economy weakens we are becoming more resourceful, we are learning patience and restraint at the airports, and our government is still intact. We must remain strong and never let “them” win.