Less than two years into the 21st century, the U.S. was violently awoken from an idyllic fin de siècle slumber.
It was a beautiful September morning with clear skies and high expectations. Two hijacked aircrafts crashed into the World Trade Center in New York; a third flew into the Pentagon; a fourth went down in rural Pennsylvania, thanks to valiant passengers who resisted the hijackers. The attacks were masterminded by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Some 3,000 Americans perished.
By noon, our country as a whole was grievously lacerated; we would go to war and the course of world history as we know it would be irreparably altered.
Fifteen years have elapsed since that day. As I write this article, flags fly at half-staff, and people throughout the country are attending church services and other gatherings to reflect on the events of 9/11 and mourn for those who were lost.
It’s still consequential to ask someone, “Where were you on 9/11?” It remains a focal point for all those who lived through that day, and many of us either directly know someone who was present at the attack sites or know someone else who does.
The last time a comparable attack befell the U.S.was Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. FDR famously called the event “a date which will live in infamy.” The so-called “Greatest Generation,” who had grown up amid the shambles of the Great Depression, were about to embark on a grueling, but eventually triumphant campaign against the Axis Powers. They would return from battlefields, hospitals and munitions factories to a country more prosperous than it had ever been at any point during the 20th century.
It’s not a stretch to claim that our generation’s Pearl Harbor were the Sept. 11 attacks. Just as Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. into World War II, 9/11 catapulted us into an ongoing global conflict against terrorism. Immediately after the attacks, we launched a campaign in Afghanistan followed by one in Iraq. Since the beginning of our retaliation for 9/11, our military has been continually engaged in conflict.
Consider this: those born in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks have never known a time when our country was not at war.
The federal government’s budget surplus at the end of Bill Clinton’s administration was swiftly eroded by the ongoing wars that characterized the George W. Bush era. In 2007, which would be Bush’s last full year in office, the Great Recession unfolded. Thousands of families lost their homes as breadwinners lost their jobs; ask around, and I’m sure you’ll find someone affected.
To this day, we face a country less prosperous than it was pre-2007, which in turn was less prosperous than its pre-2001 iteration. Global terror continues spawning heads like a hydra, staging attacks in Madrid, Paris, San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon, etc. Ours is an age of staggering uncertainty.
The 21st century has dealt us plenty of sustained adversity since that beautiful morning 15 years ago. The U.S.’ optimism and self-assurance in the year 2000 have been replaced with racial unrest, political polarization, mass shootings, etc. On a global scale, we face continued conflict in the midst of an ever-changing world.
My brooding on this subject is inconsequential compared to the loss of 3,000 civilians within the span of a few hours and the loved ones who have mourned their absence for the past 15 years. The 11th of September, like the 7th of December, will go down in the annals of our history as one of the darkest days we have ever faced. Our nation and our world will bear scars from that date as time goes by.
For those who endured the horrors of 9/11, I doubt things can ever get any easier. Can any of us ever unsee the images of passenger planes colliding into public buildings, or forget the anxiety of wondering whether our friends and relatives were safe? And after all the blood and bullets spent, can we confidently assert our world is now better and more secure than before Sept. 2001?
My doubts remain unassuaged, and as much as I’d like to have confidence in the world we inhabit, I’m simply not sure.
But the last thing we can do is despair. It would be a disservice to the 3,000 souls we lost that day, and it would grant a psychological victory to the deplorable orchestrators of this mass murder.
While we live, despair and death can go to hell. Adversity gives us strength, and overcoming it propels us to the heights of heroism. We face pervading darkness and uncertainty with each new day; there is nobility in confronting it with honor and in living for those whom we’ve lost.
Featured Photo Credit: McKeldin Mall adorned in flags. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.