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A stray moment: Remembering 9-11, ten years later
September 08, 2011 Doug Harris   

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With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 now upon us it I wanted to write a few words and thoughts about that this week. I’m not entirely sure what needs to be said. So much has been said already. All of us over 15 years old probably vividly recall that fateful Tuesday ten years ago this week. I remember waking up to my radio alarm and hearing something vague about an incident in New York City; something about an airplane. I hit the snooze button. Ten minutes later I woke again and the radio announcers we still going on about planes and New York. Planes? As in plural? That got my attention. The newsmen seemed slightly frazzled now; I could hear it in their voices. They were openly admitting they weren’t entirely sure what was going on but that something big was happening on the east coast.

Peter Jennings said “Tower One is falling…. It is coming down upon itself.” Like millions around the world I quickly turned on my television. And there it was, playing over and over, the terrible and mesmerizing scene of senseless destruction. I watched Tower Two fall in what the media calls Real Time, live. We all know this story and can all tell our own version with slightly different variations. But for the most part the story is the same. We watched 9/11 unfold glued to our television sets. Some of us were at work that day, some watched from home. Others followed the breaking story over car radios. We learned of the ever growing plot and quickly knew terrorism had reared its ugly head on our native soil. The Pentagon, Pennsylvania, how many more planes were still up there waiting for some deadly descent? And after a very tense morning it appeared the act was finished. We were shocked and horrified. Then we were really angry.

During this solemn week we will see many activities and events in recognition of the tenth anniversary of 9-11-2001. There will be a Freedom Walk in Gering to memorialize the victims of that infamous day, and to honor our troops who answered the call that followed. A “Never Forget” remembrance ceremony will be held at Five Rocks Amphitheatre. Across the nation towns and cities everywhere will be holding similar events and other displays of solidarity. It is appropriate that we do this. 9/11 is not something we can simply move on from, or just let it go.

Yet move on we must. History and time is going to keep marching forward whether we ride that wave or not. We can’t mire ourselves in the endless winter of resentment and anger. Yes we must be vigilant to guard against current and future threats, but we should not allow ourselves to sink into a permanent state of paranoia and dread. And I’m happy to see we haven’t.

A wise woman once told me if you look very hard at something you can eventually find a blessing that came out of it. In this case I find that difficult. There was a brief moment of national unity that followed the 9/11 attacks, but it soon drifted into car magnet and bumper-sticker patriotism. Perhaps the hopefulness of the Arab Spring rebellions toppling despots in North Africa is an indirect blessing? Perhaps the fact that we have learned as a people to unequivocally support our troops regardless if a war is ‘popular’ or not is a blessing? Perhaps the blessing is in the face of terror and death we have chosen life? And while these are undeniably good things that seems a little simplistic doesn’t it? It should leave the reader as unsatisfied as the writer. But celebrating life is no small thing. Affirming our dedication to freedom, justice and liberty despite those who would like to see such principles fail is no small thing.

Still I’m happy to see our general character as a people seems to have bounced back from the edge of darkness. We are a beautiful and sometimes goofy nation. I know we can get distracted and acrimonious about politics. It sometimes seems our differences are so great they cannot be reconciled. We have our problems and never seem to agree on the solutions.

So in what spirit do we approach this milestone of ten years since the tragic day of 9/11? It almost seems like 9/11 brought out both the best and the worst in us. The best is obvious in the heroics of that day, the bravery and selflessness of the police, Port Authority and firefighters; the amazing passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. The reassuring leadership of Rudy Giuliani calming an anxious nation even as the dust was still falling. President Bush at Ground Zero defiantly informing the world we would rebuild, that this act of violence would not be tolerated. Red Cross blood banks had people lining up around the block, and many young men and women immediately changed their life plans and joined the military.

But then, at times, post 9/11, our justifiable anger turned ugly. The indiscriminate use of torture and the disgusting ‘hi-jinx’ photos from Abu Ghraib prison certainly didn’t reveal the best in our nature. Patriotism in hyper-drive seemed to turn many into vengeful hawks. The inflated pride in ourselves made it tempting to denigrate others on both racial and religious grounds.

The wars we are still engaged in cannot go on forever. The treasure we have spent, the thousands of precious lives lost in combat, everyone seems to have an opinion of what was right, what was wrong.

So I approach this anniversary with mixed emotions. I think it is proper and important to commemorate and “Never Forget” but it is also a time for reflection and rationale deliberation about what is the next step. Our continued action in Afghanistan has now become the longest war in US history. Patriotism isn’t just about militancy. We are the nation of baseball, Mom and apple pie too, aren’t we? As we hold a torch in memory, and wave a flag, let us remember all the death and sorrow that 9/11 has wrought did not destroy our character or change us as a people. The terrorists did not succeed. They did not turn us into a fearful or a hateful people, the only ones who can do that would be ourselves.
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