The recent brouhaha emanating from circumstances surrounding North Korea and the hack attack on Sony (which may or may not have changed the platform for the release of Seth Rogan’s “The Interview”) resulted in comments from President Barack Obama. He said, “Americans cannot change their patterns of behavior due to the possibility of a terrorist attack. That is not who we are, that’s not what America is about.”
I’ve given this some thought since the wide reporting of this particular sound bite. And you know what? On this point, the President is wrong—completely wrong.
There’s no doubt that America has its share of problems, though I’ll agree that Americans shouldn’t kowtow to every Looney Toon who threatens the country with annihilation (no offense to Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer.) We cannot continuously be intimidated by terrorists who appear to hate us for no other reason than that we exist. And let’s face it, North Korea keeps popping up on the radar like a Sesame Street game of “One of These Things is not like the Other.”
Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, Americans have changed their patterns of behavior—drastically. I can think of a half-dozen ways right off the top of my head, but there are a few that are obvious.
One that immediately springs to mind:
At various points in my life, I remember seeing off family and friends at the airport, watching as the plane detached itself from the boarding thruway and pulled away from the gate. I remember watching the plane taxi to its takeoff position at the end of a runway out of my view, and waiting with anticipation by the window to see the plane zip by all the while crying my eyes out and furiously waving goodbye as it lifted from the ground tucking its wheels into the belly. Today, not so much.
I have visions of days when entering a courthouse, arena, museum or other public place did not require a search of my bags, my person, or cause me any forethought about the metal or electronic objects with me that day.
Though I’m (as a general rule) not a chickenshit personality, I no longer feel comfortable in large crowds. That’s not to say I avoid them, or miss opportunities to participate in living among the masses when they arise, just that it can be unnerving in a way it was not before the attacks. These days, I own a Go Bag of sorts, something that never crossed my mind even at the height of the duck and cover era.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the underlying current of the boomer generation and our attachment to our cells and handheld devices has very much to do with our collective fear of a terrorist attack. My theory is that we’re afraid to not know where our loved ones are at all times. It may not be a debilitating fear, but it’s there bubbling under the surface. But no one is admitting to it or talking about it, at least I haven’t heard anyone. Oh, mind you I don’t think it’s the only reason we’re tethered, but a case can be made for it.
Nonetheless, it’s completely bizarre to me that the president made a statement saying that Sony “made a mistake” in failing to release the film to theaters for Christmas. Since when does the president make official statements about the business decisions of any publicly held company? It made me wonder when do media giants consult with the White House before making corporate decisions? Who stands to gain from it and where does the money trail lead?
I’m a reasonably intelligent adult, with a half century of experience at this thing called life, so I’m not so delusional as to believe that there are complex and covert things that happen in the upper echelons of government, business and media giants that may never be made public, but I do think the president should have left out his statement about who “we” are as Americans. Our patterns of behavior have changed due to the possibility of a terrorist attack and to suggest otherwise is in a word, wrong.
On June 9, 2002, while walking in New York City, my first visit since the attacks, I happened upon this statue in the theater district near 45th Street and 8th Avenue. The accompanying story (pictured) took my breath away.
This morning, like most mornings, I got up and walked to the window to check the weather.
Crisp and clear.
I shower, dress, send v2.0 off to school.
I wondered what would trigger painful memories first.
8:25 a.m. Today: I felt aware when I first stepped outside, heading to my car. That was the first moment I felt a hint of the remnants of pain. (To have lived that day nearly anywhere in the northeast U.S. is to know the feeling of that Tuesday—a crisp, crystal clear, September morning, exactly like today.)
I get in my car, start the engine and head out-of-town.
8:43 a.m. Today: I turn onto the highway and flip on the radio. I listen to some acoustic guitar music, a tune I don’t know. I reflect on eleven years ago as I navigate traffic.
9-11-2001: I sit working in my office. Around 9:00 a.m., I receive a call from a co-worker in an office upstairs to inform me of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. I hang up and inform my three co-workers. I take a break and go outside to the loading dock to try to call my husband. He and another driver are on the way to Connecticut to make a delivery. The lines are busy. After numerous tries, the call connects. They have already passed through New York, and are already on the Connecticut side of the water. He tells me they can see the smoke from the towers burning.
Stilled for the moment, the monstrous propane tanks on the hill above the loading dock concern me. “An easy target,” I think to myself.
9:20 a.m. Today: I arrive in the school parking lot. It’s a long, peaceful walk across campus to my class. Again, I feel the memory cast in the blueness of the sky.
9:40 a.m. Today: With my classmates in Forensic Psychology, I watch the first half of a documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning, about a juvenile accused of murder. The irony of watching a movie about murder is not lost on me.
11:00 a.m. Today: I really need a coffee, but the line is longer than I care to wait, so I head to the next class.
11:20 a.m. Today: Music Appreciation class. The professor announces she would like to begin class with a video on 9-11 and a brief period of reflection and prayer. She says she firmly believes that music and the arts can bring people of all walks together. As soon as she makes the announcement, my hands start to shake. I already know what the result will be.
9-11-2001: The professor and I were in our early 40’s.
11:30 a.m. Today: The video begins. The professor dims the lights. I cannot contain the tears, but I don’t care. When the video is over, the professor asks if anyone has anything to share. I cannot speak.
Three others speak. Aside from myself, the next oldest classmate was in the third grade when the terror attacks happened. All of the rest appear even younger. Their memories are of being in grade school, listening to announcements over the PA system indicating an early dismissal, with minimal explanation. The children will be informed by their parents later.
In 50 years, I hope they still remember.
Today, I remember.
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