America lost her innocence 10 years ago this week.
Perhaps we should have seen it coming – the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. There had been a series of other attacks by Islamic militants against embassies, military facilities, a warship and even the Twin Towers themselves a few years earlier in 1993.
But nothing like 9/11.
With our nation “protected” by oceans on either side, we perhaps had become lulled into a false sense of security with our military might and our place in the world.
The world was changing for the better, right? Part of George H.W. Bush’s New World Order? And yet there were many hints that we were far from secure. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict had exploded following a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Ariel Sharon in September of 2000, launching the so-called “Second Intifada.” The USS Cole was bombed in Yemen a month later, killing 17 American sailors.
The world was in turmoil, but we thought we were safe here in the U.S.
That belief was shattered on that September morning. I’ll never forget that day. I was getting ready for work when my brother called and said Susan and I should turn on the TV, that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
At first there was speculation that it was a small plane that had somehow wandered off course. Then the second airliner struck the Twin Towers and the shocking realization hit that we, as a nation and as a people, were under attack.
Like others, I watched the heroic rescue efforts with fascination, reminding myself that this was real and not a television movie. And then the towers fell. It was a truly shocking scene, and I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of sorrow and grief at the terrible loss of life.
It’s a day I’ll never forget. Like generations before who experienced Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy, it’s a day forever seared into my memory.
America lost her innocence on that day, her sense of invulnerability, and I’m not sure we have recovered. Our confidence as a nation has been rattled despite victories in the so-called War Against Terror. We have boosted security measures and taken the fight to the terrorists overseas, and our homeland security agencies are communicating better and have foiled several other terrorist attempts.
And yet we now must remove our shoes before we can board an airplane and submit to a full body scan or a pat down. We are a little more fearful and suspicious of others. We wonder when the next attack will occur. We struggle to balance security with civil liberties.
But even as we gripe and complain, we are, perhaps, falling back into a false sense of security amid renewed complacency. We can only hope and pray that the people protecting us do not share that same feeling of complacency and are ever vigilant.
How do we feel 10 years later? Fearful? Still angry? Still proud? A little worried?
One of the things I fear the most is that we, as a people, have become so fearful and mistrustful that we will want to isolate ourselves from others – the great melting pot turning inward with our guard up and our hearts closed.
Our family has enjoyed hosting five foreign exchange students since 9/11 and have come in contact with many others. We can tell you that Americans are still respected and, in most cases, still loved throughout the world. We are seen as the shining example of opportunity and freedom, despite our many problems and struggles.
We must remain strong and vigilant, but we must not give in to fear. We must continue to reach out to the rest of the world with communication and cooperation. Rather than turning our back and keeping people out, we should welcome the best and brightest to our shores – even as we work hard to keep out those who wish us harm.
Diversity is what made America great in the first place. We can balance strength and security with outreach and communication. That is our challenge in the years ahead.