9/11/11: Reflections from ten years on.

Day 3,652.

I know everyone from USA Today to the White House to the History Channel is doing a retrospective on that tragic day, so I’m not exactly treading new ground. But I still felt like put my memories and feelings down on my blog.

I was on the school bus when I found out. Due to the time-zone difference between New York and California, it was very early in the morning. The sun had just barely come up.

People on the bus started talking about plane crashes, bombings, something about a skyscraper in New York I had never heard of. At first I thought they were joking, or mistaken, or that something along the lines of the Oklahoma City Bombing had happened. In about that order. It wasn’t until we got to school and classes were cancelled and the teachers put on CNN that I began to understand what all the fuss was about.

The part that stuck out in my mind was when one student told me how his little brother reacted to the news – the boy had apparently run screaming through the house, “We’re at war with Australia! We’re at war with Australia!”

Of course, we all soon found out it wasn’t Australia, but a terrorist group based (at the time) in Afghanistan, that was upset at the United States for our foreign policy in the Middle East and for what they saw as a corrupt, decadent, sinful culture that didn’t mesh with their radical version of Islam.

And of course, their plans backfired. Far from step back from the Middle East in our foreign policy, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in quick succession, strengthened our military presence in the Persian Gulf, and killed almost all of their senior leaders (including Bin Laden himself). Far from making us give up our culture for theirs, we suddenly found new meaning in things we had previously thought mundane, like going shopping, watching the game, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and so on. What’s more, from everything I have read, Al Qaeda’s influence in the Middle East has been declining for years, with recruitment down and Muslims who reject their version of Islam up. The terrorists have lost, and America has survived.

And yet.

Just like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Japanese fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, it is physically impossible for us to deny that Al-Qaeda will go down in history, having a lasting impact on our nation’s collective memory. Bin laden may be dead, but our great-great-great grandchildren will have to know his name to pass a history test in high school.

This week, USA Today ran a series of articles titled “How September 11 Changed America.” You know what would be a better question? How didn’t September 11 change America?

My mom went on a train trip to southern California recently. As she got on the train, she didn’t have to go through any metal detectors or security screenings. And she was scared. Her first thought was to how easy a terrorist attack on a train would be. Ten years and a day ago, she would not have even considered such a thought. We have become paranoid – paranoid not only of terrorists, but pedophiles, kidnappers, armed burglars, you name it. Why else would we see ads for home security systems on TV?

Video games about war make headlines and rake in profits. Titles like Gears of War and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Battlefield leave nothing to guess about what your character in the game will be doing.

I bet this is a game about cooking! Or maybe puppies!

I think this, too, is a reflection of post-9/11 America – an America with thousands of returning veterans and ongoing wars in three Middle Eastern countries and a fourth war in Korea seeming increasingly inevitable.

I’m even willing to bet September 11 is responsible for the popularity of cynical cartoon sitcoms like South Park, Family Guy, and Futurama. Think about it: these shows are all about satire and cynicism, but point to no alternative to the way things are. They are funny, but in a way, kind of depressing. They reflect the pessimism of a post-9/11 world that has given up on dreams of a Star Trek-like utopia as a fantasy for hippies.

There will never be a day in our lifetimes, perhaps in our great-great-grandchildren’s lifetimes, where September 11 is “just another day” the way it was in 2000, or 1999, or 1998. If we still have moments of silence and reflection on December 7 in honor of Pearl Harbor, we will still have them on September 11, too.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Where were you when you heard the news? Please leave a comment below and give your reflection on September 11.