Fourteen years ago today I woke to the clock radio tuned in to NPR. I could hear the shower running in the next room and rolled over to watch the morning sun rise on Granite Mountain, near Prescott, Arizona. I could not make real sense of what I was hearing-my first sleepy thoughts were that I had come into the programming somewhere in the middle of a story and that it was a recreation or spoof of “War of the Worlds”. I sat up in bed and let my feet rest on the floor and listened more closely. As the story unfolded it began to seem less a farce;the tone and tenor of the reporters voices indicated something much more serious and dark. I put my robe on and went out to turn on the television and found coverage of an unfolding horror in New York City. What I had been hearing on the radio now became visual; it was the story of planes, passenger jets, that had struck one of the World Trade Center towers at 8:46:30 and a second that had impacted at 9:03:02. The towers were on fire and emergency crews were rushing to the scene. It was chaotic. It was surreal. The coverage suggested that as a nation we may be under attack. All I could think at the time was, what the hell? It was soon reported that at 9:37:46 a third jet had crashed into the Pentagon and I felt my stomach drop, a sickening feeling washed over me and I could not believe what my eyes and ears were telling me. I watched transfixed as footage of the impacts played over and over. At 9:58:59 the first tower disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust and at 10:28:22 I watched in utter disbelief as the second tower vanished from the skyline. It wasn’t until nearly 10:45 that we were told that a fourth plane, United Flight 93, had crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03:11.
Two thousand seven hundred fifty three souls perished in the north and south towers. Of those three hundred forty three were New York City firefighters, twenty three were New York City Police and thirty severn were Port Authority officers. Their ages were from 2 to 85.
The toll at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. was one hundred eighty four souls lost.
The toll at the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was forty souls lost.
All air traffic was grounded nationwide that morning; an eerie silence was enforced over the skies where we lived. Our apartment complex was about 200 yards from the entrance of the local airport where aeronautical students from Embry-Riddle University practiced their flight training day and night. The crystalline blue skies over the mile-high mountain town of Prescott, which were normally criss-crossed with the contrails of jets, became an unsettlingly clear void. Commercial flights resumed after a couple of days but the hum and drone of the small trainer planes would not resume for ten days. Now at night we would listen to the yip and call of roaming packs of coyotes as they made their nightly rounds.
I remember driving into downtown Prescott the day after September 11, 2001 and seeing a beaten-up pick-up truck flying two enormous 4 foot by 6 foot flags-one the Stars and Stripes, the other the Stars and Bars, I went home resolved not to fly my own flag, not wanting to affiliate with that ilk. Just four days after the events in New York, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona was gunned downed by an individual who was heard to say he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” the day of the attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered for wearing a turban, mistaken for a Muslim. The initial patriotic feeling of goodwill that we all felt when we thought we were under seige has disappeared. The nature of policing changed. Open displays of hatred and bigotry are on free and open display against anyone who is of a different race or religion.
So many things about our world changed that day. A sense of security vanished along with the collapsed towers. National feelings of invincibility were replaced with vulnerability and fear which have been used as bludgeons to manipulate our society to the will of calculating politicians. Strange, un-American, authoritarian, blood and soil sounding expressions crept into our lexicon-“Homeland” Security and enhanced interrogation, which is a direct translation of “Verschärfte Vernehmung”- a phrase originally used by the Nazis. A security state has silently developed around us and fourteen years following September 11, 2001 we do not question removing our shoes and belts, emptying our pockets, surrendering our tubes of toothpaste and perfume bottles, having our person and luggage x-rayed at airports. Carrying “our papers” has become the expected norm. We hardly shrug at the thought that our e-mails are read and our phone conversations are listened in on. The prevailing attitude is something like “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you haven’t anything to hide”. Traveling into California from Arizona it was routine to be stopped by the Border Partol and questioned as to the nature of your visit.
We soon became involved in two unending, costly, wars of choice which we have asked only a very small fraction of our population-less than 1%-to fight. We have lost a total of 4,493 of our American military(4,347 since Mission Accomplished) in Iraq. 2283 Contractors, Journalists, and Academics have also lost their lives in Iraq. 2358 American military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. 32,021 have returned wounded; 320,000 have suffered brain injuries; and 22 veterans per day die at their own hand. Estimates for the total cost of the war run has high as 6 trillion dollars when legacy figures are included. None of these numbers include the dead and wounded of our allies, or the toll on the Afghan and Iraqi populations. The power shift in Iraq has given the world ISIS, causing a torrent of refugees to attempt escape,by any means, from their own terror. Although the tyrant Saddam is gone, the political rift with Iran has been closed and the Shite alliance has flourished; this new alliance has created tensions with both Israel and Sunni Saudi Arabia-whose propagation of Wahabism gave us 15 of the 19 hijackers.
One beautiful, carefree, sunny, crisp, fall morning in September has given way to a nightmare of awful proportions that never seems to stop unfurling. Today I will remember the terror, horror, and sacrifice of the victims in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville but I will also mourn the separate and no less important loss of innocence, freedoms, and lives that was given momentum on that day.