I remember pretty clearly where I was and the events that unfolded around me on September 11th, 2001. I was at work sitting in my cubical when the first coworker came by and mentioned something about a plane accident they had heard on the radio just before they got out of the car and had I heard anything else about it. Of course it turned out not to be a plane accident and before long both of the TVs in the cafeteria were tuned to CNN and most of the employees were crowded into the room, watching as the towers burned and eventually fell. I can remember clearly the reactions of my fellow employees, the most common of which was stunned horror at what they were witnessing on the screens. The gasps among some people when the first tower fell, the open weeping among others when the second tower collapsed, the growing anger among yet another group as the full impact of what had occurred started to hit home.
Myself, I was a little surprised, but no where near as shocked as a lot of people seemed to be. I tend to pay more attention to various news sources than a lot of people I know and I can recall various investigators and reports over the years that have been saying that something like 9/11 was not only possible, but growing more likely with each passing day. If anything, I was amazed it had taken so long to come to pass.
My response to the tragedy struck some folks as being a bit emotionless and it’s true that in emergencies I tend to keep my emotions in check. Certainly I didn’t feel the anger that a lot of folks felt over the attack. I wasn’t particularly frightened by the attacks nor was I worried that something might happen here in Michigan. While I did empathize with the loss of so many people, I wasn’t overcome with grief or appalled at the scale of the event. My two most immediate thoughts were first that we needed to figure out who was responsible and bring them to justice and secondly that the damage from the attack would reach beyond the loss of life and property to damage the freedoms and liberties that are a part of what make America great.
Massive tragedies such as the events of 9/11 are the stuff of every demagogue’s wet dream and I knew it was a matter of hours before they would be out in force and milking it for all they could. Americans in general seem to be easily swayed by demagogues when emotions are running high and that’s often when the greatest damage to the country is done. Yes, the loss of life was massive as was the loss of property, but some of the greatest damage to come from these attacks would be the intangible damage we would inflict on ourselves and our way of life. It’s that last sort of damage that the terrorists are most happy about.
Pardon me for a moment. The fire alarm here at work just went off.
Well, that was interesting. As we filed out into the parking lot most folks assumed it was a drill until the fire trucks pulled up. That’s when people starting talking about how today is September 11th. I could tell that some of my Arabic coworkers were suddenly feeling a little self-conscious and one or two people did seem to be eyeing them warily. I made a point to go over and engage them in some pointless banter to try and lighten the situation a bit. Turned out it was a false alarm caused by someone changing a light bulb and setting off a sensor by accident, but it was amazing how quickly people started to jump to conclusions when the fire trucks started arriving. And that’s exactly the sort of damage I was talking about.