I saw it on TV, like almost everyone else. I shuffled to the kitchen table with my cup of coffee and pushed the remote. The TV was set to Channel 11, NBC. It was 5:45 a.m. The Today Show was on; strange, normally it doesn't start till 7 a.m. on the West Coast.
The camera was fixed on the World Trade Center. Black smoke was pouring out of one of the towers. There were no jump cuts or commercials to distract the unblinking eye. Katie Couric's voice seemed dispassionate as she described how an airplane had crashed into the building. Surely it was a small plane and a horrible accident.
Then the second jet hit, another struck the Pentagon, and the towers fell. Other images are seared into our memories--the Pennsylvania field that became hallowed ground, the throngs who lustily cheered the deaths of thousands, flames and smoke everywhere, the weeping, the exhausted searching and the death of hope.
The fear gripped us for a long time. Not knowing has that effect. Who did it and why, how powerful were they, what's next, what should we do, what can I do?
Everyone--even those who were in charge of our government--can list major mistakes in the past ten years. All the criticisms have at least some plausibility: we waged war against the wrong people, maybe we shouldn't have gone to war at all, we mistreated prisoners, we had intelligence that was grossly wrong, we sacrificed too many of our civil liberties, we didn't pay the cost of the wars, and we are no farther along in being energy independent or securing the safety of Israel.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we will remember the worst of our fears:
1) we would be hit again and perhaps lose a major city; this event coupled with our response, could forever change the character of America;
2) if the attack were biological, we could lose much more than one city;
3) oil supplies would be disrupted, maybe cut off for a long time, and usher in a new Dark Ages;
4) Israel, surrounded by powerful enemies, could be destroyed.
5) A state of war would exist between the West and the Islamic world, which has over a billion people.
Ten years later none of these fears has been realized, yet victory, which we can't even define, seems as distant as it was in 2001.
I'll take it. © 2011 Stephen Yuen