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.
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