September 11, 2019 11:02:36 AM
Every generation has that seminal moment, an event that stops us in our tracks and is indelibly written into our memory.
For my parents, both born in 1919, that event was Pearl Harbor. For my older siblings, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
For me, it was September 11, 2001.
I was 42 years old, living in Mesa, Arizona, with my wife, Susan, and two children, ages 9 and 13.
On that September morning, around 8:30, I wandered into my bedroom where Susan had stopped dressing and sat at the foot of the bed, staring at the TV, which was usually little more than background noise as we got ready for work.
I turned my attention to the TV to see a plane fly directly into a tall building. At that instant, I thought it was some sort of movie trailer, but soon it was obvious this was live television. My second thought was that it was a terrible accident, perhaps the pilots had been disabled somehow and that the plane had veered off course. Many people assumed that.
Then, the next plane. Later, reports of planes crashing into the Pentagon, then a field in Pennsylvania. The Twin Towers collapsed and a tide of smoke cascaded through Manhattan like some great rolling tide.
It didn't seem real.
In the span of an hour, America was left numb, disbelieving, disoriented.
I don't know when it was that things "got back to normal." I do know that for two weeks, there were no planes flying in or out of the busy Sky Harbor Airport. I do know that American flags were plastered on what seemed to be every car back window or bumper and flags were displayed on the windows of homes an businesses.
There was a fervor of unity and patriotism and rage and, still, disbelief.
It was our generation's Pearl Harbor.
Now, 18 years later, what most people believed to be a turning point seems to be rather, a beginning of a new violent America.
In the months after 9-11, we were told that the event would transcend partisan politics and, for a time at least, that seemed true.
But it didn't last.
Our reaction to 9-11 proved to be an over-reaction, I believe. Our rage obscured our reason. We've have two wars and a Middle East still convulsed in bloodshed to show for it.
We are more politically divided than at any point since the Civil War and for all our efforts to "do something" about terrorism, we find that we are probably less safe now than we were when we didn't have to take our shoes off to get on an airplane.
Terrorism is no longer imported: We grow our own.
This year alone, an estimated 313 people have died from mass shooting incidents, the overwhelming majority committed by U.S. citizens, not Muslims or "illegal aliens." We are slaughtering each other.
After 9-11, our response was both immediate and strategic. Congress passed the Patriot Act to allow our intelligence agencies more freedom in identifying and tracking terrorism suspects. We even created a national department, the Department of Homeland Security, equipped with broad powers. We implemented security measures in airports and other public spaces that would have been inconceivable before 2001. We went to war. Twice.
For all of those efforts, are we safer? It's a tough argument to support.
Consider that we have done virtually nothing to prevent the daily carnage -- there have been more mass shootings (four victims or more) -- than there have been days in 2019 -- 313 such shootings in 254 calendar days.
In 2001, the overwhelming sentiment was we must do something -- anything, really -- to stop international terrorism.
Our response to what can only be considered as domestic terrorism? Nothing.
I'm from a generation when an single act of terrorism was a stunning event, something seared into our collective conscience.
Domestic terrorism is just another Tuesday or Wednesday.
Today, on the 18th anniversary of 9-11, the only conclusion that can reasonably be drawn is that human life mattered much more then than it does today.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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