September 11 and its legacy 17 years and counting

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There are young people today who know about 9/11 only as a point in history, much the way I grew up with World War II and the Korean War. My parents’ generation remembered those wars because they lived through them, lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor and Harry Truman’s decisions to use the atomic bomb and then to send troops to South Korea. For my generation those were just eras of our history, brought to life by the stories of an older generation.

Today there are people who know of 9/11 in a much more informed knowledge. They don’t have to rely on the stories of older people, although the stories of those people in Lower Manhattan and in the Pentagon, are far more compelling than those of us who were outside of those areas. Today we have YouTube and many other social media sites that provide vivid details from the people that lived through it, with very explicit video, including some that never made the airways in September 2001. It was too graphic for television. Like the video of people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center.

When those students were murdered at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one of the survivors talked about growing up in a world filled with fear, from armed killers walking into schools, movie theaters and nightclubs, but also this constant fear from attack. To suggest we have moved on from 9/11 would be incredibly inaccurate. It has intensified, yet become just a dull roar in the background noise of our lives.

We still have troops in Afghanistan (now officially our longest war) and Iraq, and that has spread to Syria and Africa. For the past 17 years we have been fighting this Global War on Terror. Many of us remember when a group of Palestinians took over the Israeli wrestling team during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Maybe the Global War on Terror started then and we just didn’t know it. There were a lot of hijackings and other terrorist actions that took place in the 1970s, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere as well.

Terrorism has been the strategy of choice when it comes to freedom movements. Were our founding fathers terrorists? That’s a bit of a stretch I guess, but innocent, crown loving citizens were killed during the Revolutionary War.

We were certainly fighting terrorism after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1994 and then after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. A guy by the name of Richard Clarke was working on the terrorism desk at the NSA at the time of 9/11. Then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Ricehad proposed downgrading the office of the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism — Clarke’s desk — in the months leading up to the attacks.

None of this is secret, conspiracy theory nonsense. It’s all in the 9/11 Commission Report that was released in 2004. The president and vice president at the time, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, didn’t want the commission at all and only agreed to it after immense pressure, especially from a group of wives who lost husbands in the attacks. But the commission was created to be toothless and Bush and Cheney were not required to testify under oath. People in power, or who had been in power before January 20, 2001, never wanted real closure on this event, in other words placing responsibility for the event on specific people or administrations. Several of its recommendations were undertaken, like the creation of the Director of National Intelligence, which was supposed to coordinate intelligence from our 17 different intelligence agencies to find patterns and networks. Apparently it works, to some extent. Dan Coats is the current DNI, but it doesn’t look like he’s getting very much cooperation from the White House.

  • Now the big threat is cyber-terrorism, but that is getting little attention by the current administration.

In the final years of his presidency Bill Clinton had several opportunities to order the killing of Usama bin Laden, but didn’t. Then CIA Director George Tenet wanted nothing to do with assassinations of any kind since they were expressly against the law. The attacks on our embassies in Africa and on the Cole went unanswered, even though it was known all three were carried out by Al-Qaeda. They bragged about it.

Long ago I stopped wondering what life would be like if 9/11 hadn’t happened. What’s the point? It’s something those of us who are old enough will never forget, but we would like to return life back to when we didn’t have to take our shoes off to get on an airplane, didn’t need a passport to visit Mexico or Canada, or worry about getting within 10 miles of the harbor that is home to much of our Pacific Fleet. A time when we weren’t reminded of this event every year on September 11, a time when we didn’t live in a state of fear, a state of wondering when this constant state of war will be over.

These young people don’t know what it’s like living in a U.S. society without wars, without government leaders telling us we have to be afraid of immigrants, that everyone should have a gun. The attacks on 9/11 opened up the gates to a lot of things, many of them irrational — remember the color-coded security alerts?

Life has moved on and many of us do “normal” things, but when September 11 rolls around young people will wonder why we are so depressed on this day. Like I wondered about my parents on December 7. This is their “normal.” They haven’t known any other way.

Let’s not dwell on the past, but it’s equally important not to shut the door on it. We should let that dull roar get a little softer if we can, so it takes up less of our lives.

But we should always remember those who have borne the ultimate cost of 9/11 and hope they rest in peace.