My wife and I were arguing that morning, which was odd, in that it was our Second Wedding Anniversary. In your various fantasizing and misty dreaming about your wedding anniversary as a young married, you dream up various stage-scenes, where you and your betrothed lounge about on swan-shaped satin pillows, toasting each other in lustful prose over mimosa and eggs, and so on, and on. Reality, though, was just beginning to slap us upside the noggin that morning. I drove away from the house in a huff, leaving my wife therein smoldering about some petty transgression, and me grumbling swarthy oaths to the dashboard of my car. I turned on the radio.
The digital tuner showed that the station was properly adjusted on its normal setting, but only very muted and light sounds were leaking from the speakers. "Hmm", I thought, "this is weird". Then, after several seconds of this odd, tuned-in silence, came the voice.
"It is Tuesday morning, September Eleventh, and American is under attack. Jet airplanes have crashed into both towers of New York's World Trade Center, and it is no more. Another has crashed into the Pentagon, where hundreds are likely injured and dead. The death toll will be staggering, as the World Trade Center has its own telephone area code, and there were probably fifty thousand people in the building when it was first hit. All domestic airline travel has been grounded..."
Two things were permanently mig-welded into my brain-pan: The Pentagon was blown up, and the World Trade Center is large enough for it's own area code? My next thought was this: We know who did this; And those bastards have exactly 24 hours to cough up the cockroaches that perpetrated the crime, or we will turn their country to glass.
The name of Osama Bin Laden was not unknown on September 11th. In fact, he was part of the ongoing reportage on the dynamiting of the ancient Buddahs of Baymen in Afghanistan, which the NPR eggheads seemed to think was of grave importance most of that early summer. He was the barbarian that was known to be behind the African attacks a couple of summers before, and, of course, Bubba Clinton launched some missiles at him when it was convenient to take the heat off his Grand Jury testimony in the summer of '98. This Saudi Arabian hairball had to be behind this deed, as well. If whatever country Bin Laden was in didn't surrender this human turd, we would bomb the place back to the stone age. Or earlier.
I kept driving to work. Here in northern Michigan, cell phones hadn't quite reached the Land Of Ubiquity they would in the years to come, so I couldn't immediately phone my wife, and tell her what was going on, and that I had immediately forgotten whatever the stupidity was that we were arguing about, and wanted only to hear her voice. So, I kept driving. It was painfully beautiful out, as most mid-September mornings "up north" are likely to be. Faultless blue sky.
One of the first people I ran into when I got to work was a very-recently hired marketing man, who was (and is) your typical, elite-style country-club Good Government Republican squish. He looked at me when I walked in the door to my office. He had gooseberry eyes: "We're at war," was all he said. He wandered away in search of an AM radio that would pull in the same local station I had been listening to in my car.
Then I ran into Lisa. Lisa was a trip, and was our Retail Manager at the time. We'd hired her for this position because she'd tended bar for years in one of those seedy, all-night dance clubs in New York where they scoop the puke and the cash off the floor at the end of the night with the same shovel. She was perfect to run heard over our crew of college students behind our retail counter, tough, with a faint streak of vulnerability. That streak was now a block wide as I saw her puffed-red eyes, and soaked cheeks.
"I hafta go home. I hafta go home. I can't work now. I can't get ahold of my sister! Oh, god, my sister!" was all she could say between sobs, her older sister, who was still in New York. Fifty Thousand dead. That's what the radio said in those first early hours. We shut and locked the doors to the Retail Shop, and Lisa fled home, to weep, and, later the next day, finally reach her sister. By fax.
Everyone said, "This is war." Or, "These a**holes are going to pay. They don't know what they've done!" One of my very liberal colleagues said, in a hushed tone into her little fist, as she clutched her body tightly while listening to the news: "Thank God Al Gore didn't get in." And, there was this undercurrent, breathlessly said between clenched jaws: "This changes everything!"
From the perspective of nine years, I have to ask, here, on the impending anniversary of the 9/11 attacks: What exactly changed?
Do we still countenance terrorists? Do we summarily execute them when we find them, as we would have that very minute that day if we had them in our grasp, or do we afford them civilian trials, nearly a decade later?
Did we put a gun to Yassar Arafat's hairy little head and make him squeal like a baby about how he wouldn't dare commit another terrorist attack, or did he die a peaceful death four years later in a cushy Paris hospital?
Do we get on airplanes confident in the notion that no group or country would dare touch the United States after our response to 9/11, or do we get all supine before the Great Federal Leviathan, taking off our shoes, getting naked, and submitting to all sorts of stupid ignominy before we board an aircraft?
Did we seal our borders so tightly a sheet of Saran Wrap couldn't get it, or did we get all weepy like hand-wringing dowagers about this immigrant group, or that immigrant group being unable to get in?
Do we have a President with gargantuan shoulders who tells the world to take a flying leap at a rolling doughnut, and if they wanna play ball with the Great United States of America they had better first check their Islamofascism at the door, or do we have a little scrawny weakling who bows in front of the first flea-bitten potentate he can find with a photographer handy?
Did we throw off the leaden bars of political correctness, or of environmentalism run amok (just that spring, there were hold-overs from the Clinton White House in the new Bush Defense Department insisting on fighting "environmentally friendly" wars, if possible), or do we sit here and shake our heads in vigorous agreement with the insanity of "green jobs", and "clean energy"?
Where did the righteous anger go? Where did the clenched jaw of victory go? How did we go from the searing anger of a Rudy Giuliani to the perspiring double-talk of a Michael Bloomberg?
For a day that "changed everything", I can't see much has changed at all. At least for the good.