A different sort of 9/11 remembrance

I remember standing in the door way of a partner’s office at the client site I was at, watching the news unfold that fateful Tuesday morning. I remember a few hours later walking out to the river in Georgetown and seeing the smoke rising up from the Pentagon. I remember trying to figure out how to go home to NYC on Wednesday and being relieved that eventually Amtrak started operating. I remember seeing the smoke rising from the rubble as the train rolled past. I remember that thousands died needlessly. I remember weeks later, when the airports reopened, flying over for the first time and leaving my seat even though the seatbelt sign was on and there were strict rules so that I could get to the other side of the plane to see the damage. I remember many days, likely weeks, where the 1 train wasn’t running, leaving my basement apartment eerily quiet when I was quite used to the mild rumble of the trains rolling by.

These are memories seared into my brain. They are memories that I will never lose and that I have no desire to lose, despite the pain they occasionally cause. I must remember them because they are a part of my life.

But I also remember much more than the events of that day.

I remember what life was like in the days, months and years prior to the attack. I remember living in a country that wasn’t governed by a pervasive threat of unspecified and likely unrealistic threats. I remember a country not afraid to stand up as a leader in the global community rather than a country so afraid that it will kill itself whilst pretending it is still in control. And I wonder why we allowed ourselves to succumb to the fear rather than to rise up and defeat it.

Sitting in an airport lounge this afternoon, getting ready to fly just like I have some 800 times in the past 10 years I hear the talking heads on a news channel drone on and on about the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and I’m more than just a bit disgusted. There is no doubt that the events that day were a terrible tragedy. There’s no reason those folks should have died. But not event, tragedy or otherwise, justifies the results that the past 10 years have seen.

Maybe my disgust is because I wasn’t sufficiently personally affected 10 years ago. Of the nearly 3,000 who died I don’t have a personal connection to any. Maybe that means my views on the topic don’t really count. But I don’t think that’s really true.

A rational response to an attack, particularly right when it happens, is hard to demand. And we most certainly did not see one. After ten years, however, demanding a rational approach is way past due. Sadly, it will almost certainly never come to pass. Instead we got the TSA, a war, tens of thousands more dead, trillions of dollars wasted and nothing to show for it.

Even though the security screening on that fateful Tuesday actually did nothing wrong the TSA was foisted upon us. The need to perform a virtual strip search of every passenger or grope them to ensure that they aren’t carrying a weapon which would most likely be detected by the same metal detectors that have been in use successfully for decades is just one of the many debacles that this tragedy engendered. There are plenty more stories of TSA idiocy (say your name out loud to pass through security, agents carrying a gun to work, agents stealing from passengers, etc.) and that’s just one of the many burdens that we now suffer with as passengers.

Even worse than the TSA, however, we have each other to deal with. No longer are we all passengers working together to survive the hours confined to the same metal tube hurtling through the air at 500+ miles/hour. Today we have passengers who have deputized themselves as part of the security apparatus, reporting that an other passenger looks suspicious for almost certainly no good reason. We have folks who are no threat to anything being removed from flights, interrogated and embarrassed because another passenger decided their own personal comfort was more important than the rights of someone else.

I read this line today and I’m surprised at just how angry it made me:

Since 9/11, I have taken it upon myself to be a vigilant American…I’ve said something about someone looking nervous, out of place, or otherwise causing alarm for me. 1 out of those 5 times I said something, the person was removed from the flight. Whether or not they were actually a threat, someone else agreed with me that they were out of place with their otherwise alarming actions. …I do know that I don’t feel bad if my judgment and the flight crew’s judgement were made in error.

There is a difference between being vigilant and being a vigilante and it is way more than the letter e. The past 10 years have served to blur that distinction for all too many making us less safe, not more. Less safe because that vigilante might just decide to respond directly against a perfectly innocent individual. Less safe because folks are ignoring real threats and focusing on imagined ones. Less safe because the concept of security is horribly misappropriated. Suggesting that someone else be removed from a plane because you are uncomfortable is quite high on my list of ludicrous behaviors that passengers have taken to in the past ten years. It is way worse than any of the air rage incidents that have been reported.

We’ve wasted billions upon billions of dollars. We’ve destroyed all too many civil liberties. And we’ve killed tens of thousands of people. All in the name of security. Sadly, what we’ve actually provided is anything but.

The events of September 11, 2001 were a tragedy in every sense of the word. The response to them as evidenced in the policies we see today is an even greater tragedy. We should all remember the events that transpired that day. And we should remember that we were a strong, proud people prior to that and we still can be, even while mourning those who were murdered.

I continue to fly. A lot. I put up with the bullshit foisted upon me by the TSA, airlines, flight crews making up security regulations as they go and other passengers. I do so because I love to travel and there’s nothing that will ever beat that love out of my system. But that doesn’t mean I have to respect the faux authority position from which these policies are handed down.

Flying today (I’m writing this on the afternoon of the 10th) or tomorrow (I will be) is not something I’m doing to make a political statement like so many others claim to do. I’m flying this weekend because I love to fly and because I really wanted to visit both Alaska and Hawaii this weekend and flying is the only way to do so.

I’m still living my life as best I can. That’s the only statement worth making.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.

Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I really appreciate that you shared your thoughts. While I don’t agree with everything you said and I do agree with some of your feelings and respect those I don’t agree with. I’m glad you are flying today! My heart is sad today but also hopefully too for the future!
    Thanks again for sharing! Just wanted to let you know your thoughts were appreciated!

  2. “say your name out loud to pass through security”

    I think this particular criticism is misinformed. After saying my name out loud to a TSA agent, I asked him if in his experience anyone was unable to do this. He said it is not a correct answer he was looking for (though an incorrect one would certainly raise flags). Instead, it was seeing if the passenger tried to look at the I.D. document before answering it. He said this happens regularly. I think you might agree that a passenger having difficulty remembering the name on his I.D. should indeed be subject to additional inspection This is exactly what they do in such a case.

    — Gary Steiger

    1. @Gary: I know why they are asking it. I still think it is foolish. The idea that my showing an ID makes the flight safer is pretty silly. Who I am means roughly nothing compared to what I have with me in terms of my ability to cause trouble. If the TSA is going to be used as a dragnet to catch common criminals traveling under a false name then we’ve really screwed up in terms of how we’re assessing the security risks that we legitimately face.

      @Rick: Show me a credible threat and a plan that can address the threat without destroying civil liberties and I’ll listen. Until that time comes, however, I’m going to continue to suggest that the correct response is to assume the risk rather than destroy the fabric of our society.

      I’m not sure who the tens of thousands you are referring to are, but I sure hope you don’t mean the TSA. If you’re referencing the US military then I fully support them but not the actions they are engaged in. That’s a policy issue at the top, not one that the soldiers can deal with, but I fully believe that the “war on terror” that we are currently fighting is a sham and a farce. It is causing more damage than it is solving. It is killing more people than it is saving. And it is doing this at a financial cost that is brutal for the country to assume.

      In the mean time, calling me names isn’t doing much to suggest that my comments are the least mature on the page right now.

  3. It is sad to say but your comment “a pervasive threat of unspecified and likely unrealistic threats” reveals a disdain for the current threats that we face. Bombs on buses, bombs on trains, car bombings in Times Square, bombings in tunnels and subways, dirty bombs in NYC or DC are “likely unrealistic” is a dangerous and naive way to look at what we face.
    Because each of those has either happened or been attempted. Oh wait, I left out someone planting explosives in their underwear of the soles of their shoes. Sorry pal, but you need to wake up to the reality of the post 9-11-01 world, even 10 years later. Lamenting the growth of a security structure designed to protect you and keep you safe? I am certain that those (almost) 3,000 people in NYC, DC and PA may have felt the same way as you did on that morning. I am positive that they do not feel that way anymore.
    So, enjoy your flight knowing that there are TENS of thousands of people who are willingly putting themselves in harms way to make sure you enjoy your trips to Alaska and Hawaii. There are even thousands of people who are going to do unspeakable harms to other (guilty or enemy) people in your name.
    So please, go enjoy your trip, and whine about it. Or just shut up as people better than you stand watch on a wall while you bitch in the sun or snow.
    Grow up. Please.

  4. Well written.

    From an European perspective, we have barely touched the US soil in the last 10 years but we have spent a lot of time in the air elsewhere in the world and enjoyed the experience. No intrusive security checks, no taking shoes off, staff waiving your water bottle through. Flying can still be fun.

    “Post 9-11-01” may be a valid term for the US but most people tend to forget that terrorism didn’t start that day. Europe has had fare share of it before that. I remember flying to the US for the first time in the early 90’s and wondering if I had landed to an airport or a public bus station.

    Condolences to all people who have lost family, friends or relatives. We’re fortunate that the life still goes on and the sun will raise every morning. The best thing one can do is to focus on today and tomorrow.

  5. +1. And Boo to the Rick the anti civil libery poster. So many discussion points to defeat him. Although my quick response is “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”

Comments are closed.