Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years On

That day started like most any other day for me.  The kids had spent the night with their mother, so getting ready meant calling my lovely girlfriend to say good morning, feeding the cats, and getting out the door for work.

I was in the middle of some report or another when I heard commotion from the other people in the office.   Someone said that a skyscraper in New York was on fire.  I wandered down to our lunch room to get my morning coffee and found it packed with people watching the TV's.  The first tower was indeed on fire, and that was when I learned that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  I watched for a while, hoping it was just an accident when we saw the second plane hit.  The shocked silence in the room was deafening after the babble of people speculating about rescue efforts in the first tower.  I will say that you could tell the sheep from the goats in that moment when there were two reactions from members of both sexes:  Shocked tears of disbelief and looks of absolute rage at the realization of what was happening.

I ran upstairs to my desk and tried to get on the news sites to learn what exactly was going on, but our Internet connection was swamped. It wasn't long before I got an email asking that people stay off of the telephone and Internet so that it could be used for coordinating the hundreds of flights that had been grounded.

I heard a TV in one of my co-worker's cubicle and wandered over.  We talked for a while as we watched the towers burn, and then as they collapsed.  He was an Air Force vet, and I had recently left Fort Campbell.  We heard that the Pentagon had been attacked, and that there were other planes missing.  That sent both of us scrambling to our cell phones to call people who were still in the military.

Calls to friends in the military or other branches of government either didn't get through, went unanswered, or got me a "We're OK, but I can't talk now" response.  Of course, calls to a friend who was working in the J-2 area of the Pentagon didn't get through.  I later learned that my friends at bases around the world were quickly put either on alert to deploy in support of recovery and relief efforts or were set to work patrolling the perimeter of the base.

My ex-Air Force co-worker and I got back together after putting down our cell phones to compare notes and had the same results.  He mentioned that simultaneous attacks sounded familiar, and I said it sounded like the attacks in Africa a few years earlier.

The rest of the day was spent listening to the news and trying to get some work done.  My boss kicked everyone out at about 1 PM to get home to our families.  I went by the kids' day care to pick them up, and noticed that the fuel warning light had come on.  That's when I found that the price of gas had gone up from about $1.25 a gallon that morning to over $2.00, and the gas station I sat in line for an hour to get gas at was only taking cash.  To this day, I won't buy gas from BP or Citgo because of their price gouging on September 11.

I took the kids over to Irish Woman's house.  She was shaken up and didn't want to be alone.  We compared what we knew, which wasn't much, and tried to keep the kids from seeing the TV as we watched Dan Rather drone on.  She asked me if I was worried about our safety, and I said that I wouldn't be too concerned unless whoever did this started blowing up grocery stores and fuel depots.

We were so engrossed in the attacks that we forgot that Little Bear's birthday is September 11.  The cake was waiting for me at the grocery store, and they called me at 9 PM to see if I was going to come get it.  By then, the children were in bed, so we skipped the gifts and all that until the morning.  He was delighted to get presents, cake, and ice cream for breakfast, even if it was a day late.

So those were the facts of that day for me.  How did I feel?  I wasn't concerned for my personal safety. If things were so bad that an IT guy in Kentucky was worried about suicide bombers, then we had bigger concerns.  I was worried about friends in New York and DC (everyone accounted for and unhurt, praise the Lord), but after trying to get in touch with everyone, all I could do was wait for news.  Mostly, like a lot of people, I was angry.  I was angry that someone had killed thousands of my people indiscriminately.  I wanted retribution, and I still do.  I don't think that the death of bin Laden earlier this year was enough, and neither were the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The barbarian hind-brain part of me is still waiting for our wehrgeld, paid in blood.

That night and in the days after, I watched President Bush make one of the most critical mistakes of his presidency:  He didn't request a true, no holds barred declaration of war against Al-Qaeda and anyone who associates with or supports them.  He continued to make nice noises towards regimes and beliefs that offer lip service and sad faces while giving aid and comfort to those who want to see us dead.  I believe that if he had gone to Congress on September 12 and gotten a declaration of war, a lot of the issues we've had with the half measures and distractions we've seen in the last 10 years would not have happened.

Like a lot of people, I was blind to the cynicism of our law enforcement agencies when they put forward the laundry list of extra-Constitutional powers given to them in the USA Patriot Act and other new laws.  Since their passage, I've seen law enforcement and intelligence organizations do things with impunity that would have sent me to Leavenworth if I'd tried them as an intelligence specialist.  Especially troubling is the tendency to use these agencies and their new powers to monitor and investigate citizens who have nothing to do with terrorism.  And I'm pretty sure that I've made my position on the TSA and its ilk clear already.

So here we are, 10 years on from the attacks of September 11.  We've buried the dead, lashed out at those who did it, and been in a state of semi-war for a decade.  We've gotten involved in a bushel of conflicts around the globe, and straight-up invaded and occupied two countries.  My hope is that over the next decade we can find a way to ratchet down the overt wars we're involved in while still succeeding in the covert ways that seem to be working out quite well.  I also hope that the balance between government power, especially the power to monitor the activities of law abiding citizens, and the rights of citizens can be rediscovered.  I also hope that by the time September 11, 2021 rolls around, our country can mark it as a memorial instead of a self-flagellation for the sins of being attacked.


Old NFO said...

Concur, and I'm glad you didn't lose anyone...

DaddyBear said...

I've had a few funerals since then, but none on 9/11. Sorry that you weren't so fortunate.

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