I wrote this article and posted it a year ago in 2018. I updated it to this year and reposted on September 11th, but then quickly took it down. It contains a critical question regarding 9/11 and it occurred to me the day is not suited for that. The day should be a day of remembrance of the heroes and victims.
I make a special point on every anniversary of September 11, 2001, to look at the clock at the moment the first plane hit the Towers to stop what I am doing to pay respect to the victims and to reflect on what happened.
I will always remember how I had just risen from bed in Los Angeles and turned on The Today Show. At that very moment the first tower collapsed.
Shock turned to confusion, then to fear, then anger, and back to shock. Within a few hours the entire community sought emotional refuge in public spaces like churches and schools. I took my family to a church in Simi Valley where some kids were outside playing on skateboards. One of them asked: “What’s going on?”
“The world just changed,” I replied.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said another young man.
“You will,” I told him.
The impact has been immeasurable. Even my youngest son, who wasn’t even born, knows the terms now coded into our collective psyche: 9/11, Twin Towers, Ground Zero, Al-Qaeda, the War on Terrorism. The world did change. And 18 years later we can take some inventory.
We have seen victories. And with no intention of minimizing any act of terrorism that has occurred since, there hasn’t been one of the orchestrated magnitude of 9/11. Saddam Hussein is gone in an ancillary cause, and Osama Bin Laden is dead. Much of Al Qaida has disintegrated. ISIS rose from those ashes as the most heinous realization of such insanity, but their money is running dry and their reach is diminished.
Yet no one feels that victory has been accomplished. So we must ask: What will victory look like?
Will “sand glow in the dark” as Ted Cruz’ hyperbole once suggested?
Will we have such awesome might that no one ever dares attack us again? Is that possible when it was only a small band of terrorists who altered our giant nation with box cutters? That question isn’t meant as an insult to our strength or fortitude, but it serves as a reminder that a slingshot can be more than a metaphor.
And what does victory look like to those who hate us?
Perhaps it isn’t a victory in the battlefield they seek, but to diminish our strength in other ways. They have changed the way we think; the way we look at one another; the way we talk to each other. They robbed us of conveniences by tightening our security and the way we fly.
They’ve made us more suspicious, more judgmental, more afraid, and sometimes less compassionate. They’ve fanned embers of racism, and religious intolerance, and made us look askance at our greatest virtue; the promise of freedom for all.
We have seen victories, but we are not yet victorious. We won’t be until we determine what our victory will be.