I remember a lot of dreadful things about 9/11, but I especially remember the smoke, billowing to heavenly heights and stretching the expanse of our atmosphere. What do you remember about September 11, 2001? What were you doing? Who were you with? What were you thinking? How did you feel at 7am EST that morning, before the attacks? In contrast, how did you feel at 7pm that night?
Most people remember minute details vividly as the terror attacks unfolded in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. At the time I was living in Hoboken, NJ across the Hudson River from New York City. Geographically speaking, I lived very close to the World Trade Center, and emotionally I was also quite close since I commuted to the WTC every day on the PATH train. (I was running late this particular morning due to some Girls Fight Back related errands.) My uncle also worked in one of the towers, further entrenching me in the outcome of the day’s nation-changing events.
But I’m one of millions – I’m sure you have a similar connection to the tragic events of 9/11, even if you were on the other side of the world or didn’t know a soul in the buildings. It was an event that rocked us to our core, and created a tearful solidarity we hadn’t experienced as a nation for decades. But I think the most profound effects on our psyche were made because for most people, this was the first time terrorism felt REAL in the United States. We were forever changed, because the utterly unimaginable was now totally possible.
As a nation we answered back with new laws and new wars. We made changes in how we think about safety, how we travel and how we respond to violence. I’m not saying I agree with all our responses, and some approaches have been less than measurable in impact. But as a country, we made it a top priority to get serious about our national security. People have wildly different opinions on exactly how that security is achieved (and at what price), but I believe at the end of the day, collectively we focused on no more airplanes crashing into skyscrapers. No more people jumping from burning buildings. No more gas masks as a permanent staple in your briefcase. No more needing sleeping pills just to quiet the deadly threats in our heads for just one night…
I flew on an airplane within weeks of the tragedy on 9/11 and going through security was almost zen-like, with every passenger silently complying with the increased security measures, and even thanking the security agents as they were screened. People just didn’t care about security people touching them or going through their stuff, because they saw a real benefit in complying. I even saw passengers hug security agents during those raw times! Traveling at 35,000 feet became almost like a bonding experience for us road warriors.
Can you imagine that kind of love and appreciation for TSA happening today, with all the controversy surrounding the new airline security measures being carried out by the federal government? Critics have valid concerns opposing these new procedures, whether they address fears about radiation from x-ray machines, invasive touching or other violations of personal boundaries. While it’s convenient to formulate an opinion of these new measures right now, with no terror attack in recent memory, I think we might be well-served to bring another voice into the debate…the voice of ourselves the day after 9/11. Not necessarily the anxiety those days brought, but instead the hard-core realization of “just how fragile we are.” (Watch the Sting video about 9/11 here, with those very simple yet profound lyrics.)
Just as it’s easy to get swallowed up by the terror of terrorism and turn into a nervous wreck, it’s also a disservice to ourselves and our national security to bask in safe complacency. Really, I don’t think the true question is pat-down versus x-ray. At core, the fundamental debate is the real likelihood of the threat. Based on that assessment, how far are we willing to go to avoid it? (This is probably why many law enforcement and security folks are in favor of the more stringent flight procedures – they see bad stuff every day. It is their reality, so they are more willing to adapt.)
If you’re someone who is considering joining the protest against TSA this week, go for it. But just be sure to ask your immediately-post-9/11 self what he/she would do first.