Lessons of 9/11

Millions of words have been dedicated to the tragedy that was 9/11/2001. Nothing I could write could add to the depth of the sorrow, shock or loss that so many suffered that day. Nothing I can do would add to hope that we are safer, or satisfaction that those responsible have been punished–not even our government has accomplished that.

All I can do is think back to that morning, turning on the television just after the first tower was hit, as the morning news show in New York was shaken up by what seemed then to be a random accident.

As the events unfolded, we in the Northeast panicked and worried and held our collective breaths for hours until it became clear that the attack was over. But that day, unlike any other before or since, my Internet ‘family’ offered support, love and encouragement as we all stayed in touch, from Pennsylvania, to Florida, to Ohio, to California, to Texas and back through the Internet, in chat rooms or through instant messaging. We shared news and tears and figuratively held one another’s hands, praying that our loved ones and those of our countrymen would be safe.

Unlike many other events in our history, technology made it possible for Americans as a nation to be in direct communication with each other at a moment of crisis. The extent of television coverage brought news into homes with an extent of detail and image (who will ever forget the sight of those towers crumbling?) that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades before. Instantaneous posting of news accessible on the Internet kept anyone paying attention up to the moment with information.

Even cell phones had become so common that passengers on the doomed plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania heard from those on the ground what was happening via phone and took action accordingly. Those same phones allowed many of the victims to have a chance to say goodbye, in Pennsylvania, D.C. and New York.

The nation seemed much smaller on that day, all of us closer, bonded together by tragedy in a way that all the prosperity in the world hadn’t been able to accomplish. Technology helped that bond, by putting us at each other’s fingertips. In recovering from 9/11, we had the opportunity to continue to work as one, with our security and safety as a goal.

But the headlines today say we are no longer united by our fear and desires, as we were then. We are once again drenched in political strife, the divisive parties engaged in business as usual, each using its energy to denigrate and destroy the other instead of working together to make us safe and whole. The government bureaucracy around national security has burgeoned like a mushroom cloud, costing billions of dollars; but have they really made the average man on the street any safer? What Washington has spent here and abroad on the war–three TRILLION dollars — has cost us a stable economy and the opinion of many around the world.

The Bush administration may or may not have entered into this Mideast war for the right reasons; what’s clear at this point is that the objective has not exceeded, and that long-awaited satisfaction will not be achieved. We just continue to sacrifice our people and the people of the nations we are supposed to be protecting, while spending money we could be using in much more constructive ways.

If we have learned nothing from the 9/11 attack, as the adage says, then we are doomed to repeat it. The 21st century doesn’t call for business as usual. What matters in this day and age is much greater than petty interparty politics and earmarks and fistbumps, or even America vs. the world.

The global situation in the 21st century demands that we take our collective power, the same unifying power we discovered back on 9/11, and put that power to work for human concerns, for global concerns like starvation in Africa, animal extinction in Alaska, ice melting in Antarctica, and for America, perhaps the outlandish thought that people committed to love and honor each other should be allowed to marry, have rights and raise families–no matter what their gender. And that’s just the A’s.  There’s lots of letters left. Let’s get together and build a world we can all be proud of.