The way it was, on Sept. 10, 2001

By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
The Communicator, Santa Rosa, N.M.

Hopefully, somebody rang a bell on Sunday. All of us should have paused to remember. It has been 16 years now.

Do you remember where you were that day, Sept. 10, 2001?

Nothing particularly exciting happened in the world that day. But that was the point.

It was the last day of the “old normal,” before the terrorist attacks of the next morning, Sept. 11, 2001, would usher in the era of the “new normal.”

Before that day, our country did not seem to be in a constant state of war. We could walk into our federal government buildings without going through security gates. You could even sit with your loved ones at the departures gate in the airport, watch the planes come in, and give them a hug right before they walked through the door.

In hindsight, we were in the preliminary stages of a viciously divided, partisan period of American history. But our leaders were still decent enough people that when they got through a disputed presidential election that had to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the loser congratulated the winner, made sure everyone heard him acknowledge the new guy as “my president,” and allowed our country to move forward. No hard feelings. (OK, maybe a little…)

Life was so much different on the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A whole generation of young soldiers had volunteered for service thinking the chances were slim that they’d actually end up fighting in a war.

Soon, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, young infantrymen would come up and tell me and some of the other embedded journalists that they enlisted for college money or other reasons. Yes, they took their training seriously and they got ready, they said. But in all honesty, a lot of them said, they never really thought they’d get to put it to use in an actual battlefield.

That’s because it seemed like a different world on Sept. 10, 2001.

Behind the scenes, people at the highest level of the U.S. government knew we were approaching a more dangerous world, with terrorist groups and rogue states positioning themselves to shatter the relative stability of the geopolitical maps.

On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush had received a classified briefing report that spoke of the evil ambitions of the terrorist group Al Qaeda and its enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden. The now-infamous headline was: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

But the American public wouldn’t hear about that until more than a month later, after it was too late.

In the weeks leading up to the terrorist attacks, it was business as usual in the United States. In the middle of August, I traveled out to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, went on a little hike and got to see President Bush do what they said he liked to do best: clear brush and help care for the land in a beautiful place.

He was all smiles later at the YMCA, joking with reporters in the lunch line and answering one important-sounding question about the Israelis and the Palestinians. But there was no mention of the Al Qaeda memo. Nothing that would indicate we were a country on edge.

Now, ever since that day-after the day-before, we’re a country that seems constantly on edge. We still worry about terrorists. We worry about our armed forces, who are still in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq. We worry about places like Syria and Iran. And now, suddenly, the fear has been ramped up another notch with all the doomsday talk surrounding the nuclear showdown with North Korea.

Here at home, we now accept things that were unthinkable on Sept. 10, 2001. It’s presumed that the United States government will do a certain amount of electronic spying on its own people in the name of “homeland security.” We accept all sorts of compromises in our liberties, like drastic changes in airport security, pat-down searches at high-profile sporting events and more.

Meanwhile, at a new height in the information age, we don’t know what to believe anymore. The partisan divisions no longer are polite. They’re endemic, particularly vicious, and people on all sides try to spin them to their own advantage.

In many ways, we’ve all become way more cynical about the world in which we live – and, arguably, were more on edge today than we were in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Being on edge, constantly, is just another part of the “new normal.”

This year, we waited until Monday to commemorate the 16-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. But maybe we should do something different this year. Let’s commemorate Sept. 10, 2001, figure out how life was better. Figure out whether we were too complacent for our own good.

Maybe, if we think about it, we can remember something positive about our lives before the world changed and see if we can sneak it into the world today.

Originally printed in The Communicator, Santa Rosa, NM,
Reprinted here by permission of:
Tom McDonald
Gazette Media Services
Community News Exchange

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