Eighteen years ago today, the twin towers fell and nothing has been the same since.
I was in kindergarten on that day, I’m told my distraught mother pulled me out of school, but I have no memory of that day. Despite that, it left an indelible mark on my life, and every other American’s.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 cast a pall over the United States. It was the first foreign attack on American soil of its scale since Pearl Harbor, and America’s carefully curated facade of invincibility was shattered.
We’ve learned all the wrong lessons. Year after year we double down on war, on hate and on imperialism.
Those who survived developed severe health problems, especially the first responders. It wasn’t until recently that a bill providing medical benefits for them was passed. People say “never forget,” but the American government forgot these men and women for almost 18 years.
In the aftermath of the 2,977 dead, almost every element of American life changed. Parents became more protective, government agencies expanded surveillance and security, and the country plunged into three wars, one of which will soon be old enough to vote.
The Bush Administration’s response was far too brutal, and far too hasty. It plunged us into conflict after conflict, destabilizing a region that had already been ravaged by western imperialism.
The violence wrought by the US in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and the power vacuum left by indelicately deposing leaders, has deepened long-standing grudges and led to many of the current problems plaguing the region.
In addition to wars, caustic hate directed at Muslims became normalized.
It was socially acceptable to unilaterally condemn every aspect of Islam and those who practice it. This hatred is still very much present with Islamophobia being used against politicians like Barack Obama and Rashida Tlaib.
Growing up in this panicked reorienting of society has left much of what came before unfamiliar and alien to me. Scenes where hopeful young men sprint past security to connect with lovers leaving on a plane stand in stark contrast to my every remembered experience.
Media that came before was left instantly dated, they are snapshots of a time that I never knew. 9/11 is so foundational to my reality that even its absence draws attention to it.
The same applies to the conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan; images of burning buildings and desert skirmishes have been with me for so much of my life that they have faded into the background. There is a normalcy to them. There shouldn’t be.