Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 – Stuff We Should Always Remember

Fifteen years ago today, on September 11, 2001, I was on my way to my office when NPR reported that a small plane may have hit one of the World Trade Center towers. That struck my interest, but it was just one piece of news among many, so I didn’t give it too much thought. By the time I arrived at my office, however, the reports made it clear that something big had happened.

I spent the rest of the day with my coworkers, searching for websites and broadcasts to get accurate information about what really happened. Apparently, the rest of the world had the same idea, and the entire Internet came to a standstill. It was the day that broke the Internet.

I could see the Salt Lake City International Airport from my office window, and watched as plane after plane landed, with none taking off. All flights in the entire U.S. were grounded, and the tarmac quickly filled with parked planes.

We watched online—via a foreign website that still worked—as the twin towers and surrounding buildings collapsed, and another plane crashed into the Pentagon, then a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The events of that day are hard to forget, and it changed the world in big ways.

After listening to radio reports and attempting to watch online the whole day—and not getting any work done—I drove home thinking about what happened. At the time, my children were 10, 8, and 2-years old, and the youngest was only six months old. The older two were in school and had talked about what happened, but didn’t understand it. The younger two of course were too young to pay much attention. At dinner, I told my family what I knew about the events, then told them to always remember that day, because it would definitely signify a huge change in world affairs.

I explained to my family that nobody could predict the future, but that things would be very different from that time going forward. I thought we’d probably be going to war, and that our society would need to start getting used to constant surveillance and security checks. I thought there’d be a backlash against Muslims and encouraged my family to not give in to the hate we’d probably see others express. I went to bed that night, worried about the future my children would experience.

Several days later, after scenes of backlash against Muslims and others had already begun playing out nationwide, I had a sense of sadness for everything going on. I saw the hatred beginning to build and wondered why humans are so prone to lash out at an entire culture, based on the actions of a few. I even sent out a somewhat-self-righteous email to friends and family, reminding them of our commitment to not judge and condemn others. The initial terror attacks were nothing short of inexcusable evil, but what worried me most was the backlash we saw here in our own country. Otherwise reasonable people had become filled with loathing and hatred.

I was junior high age when the Iran Hostage Crisis played out, where Americans were taken hostage in Tehran by people supporting the Iranian Revolution. I was too young to understand the events, and I certainly didn’t know the history of America’s involvement in that part of the world. But I saw the hatred many in our country expressed toward the Iranians, such as teeshirts proclaiming “The Ayatollah in an a**ahollah.”

I’ve studied with interest the detainment of Japanese Americans during World War II. One of those internment camps—Topaz—is in western Utah and the scenes of American citizens locked up for no reason other than their ancestry has often haunted me.

During my college years, I occasionally volunteered to assist Amerasian refugees from Vietnam get settled in the U.S. These were children of American soldiers, fathered during the war and left in Vietnam after our country pulled out. Most of the children were post-high-school age by that time, but had little education or adequate heath care while growing up. They were forced into a marginalized existence in their own country, simply because of their heritage.

I’m not writing this to try and justify the horrific events of 9/11, or any terrorist activities before or since—and I should point out that I didn't lose any close loved ones during those events. Plus, I’m certainly not immune from the very things I’m writing about. Perhaps I’m just writing this to assuage my own societal guilt. In any case, having watched hatred play out in the wider world, and right in my own backyard, I guess I’m just worried that our future is even more tenuous when I see the same hate-filled rhetoric—from all sides—filling our screens with more of the same.

9/11 was supposed to be the day “we’d never forget.” But perhaps there are other things in the past and present that we should keep in mind as well.