Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Retroskeptic: 9/11

I started blogging in the summer of last year, so I had a chance then to do something on the 5 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. However, I didn't think of anything good at the time, and made some other random post. This year, however, I've decided to look back on the day of the attacks and describe my experiences through it, using the benefit of hindsight to add a little perspective.

Being a normal Tuesday in the beginning, I went to my high school as normal. The first news I heard was sometime during gym class, when another student mentioned that planes had been flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After gym class, we normally had some time to mill around before the bell rang to start passing period, and at this time I noticed that the school TVs (normally used just for morning announcements and special occasions) were all on and turned to the news.

At this time, no one really knew whether it was an accident or an attack for sure, but given the near-simultaneity of the crashes, an attack was assumed. We speculated for a while about who it could have been, but being mere high school students with only a passing interest in international politics (and not having received a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside US), our guesses were all off.

It was at this point that I started to think about the causes of terrorism in general. In this case, it turned out to be a mix of hatred for the US for meddling in Middle Eastern politics and religious insanity. To me, the solution to preventing attacks like this was to attack the root causes of them so people wouldn't be lead down this road in the first place.

A metaphor I use for this is to a disease and its symptons. If you just treat the symptons, the underlying disease still exists and the symptoms will return. The best method is to attack the disease itself, and then the symptoms will go away. Similarly, with terrorism, if you just attack the terrorists who attacked you, you're doing nothing to stop further terrorism. To stop the phenomenon, you have to get at the underlying issues that cause it.

However, even back then I knew how this perspective would be perceived: as giving "sympathy" to the terrorists, and it was being attack by pundits the first day in advance of anyone even talking about it. I did, however, underestimate the ferocity of their attacks, accusing people with such thoughts as being "traitors" and "aiding America's enemies."

You might have noticed that in my story so far, I've seemed quite dispassonate, likely in quite a contrast to other stories people have told of this day. The simple reason is that at the time I was dispassionate. It's not that I'm uncaring, it's just that I had a bit too much perspective for age. I knew at the time of all the other ongoing causes of death in the world, from current wars and genocides to extreme poverty resulting in starvation. Thinking about that enough in the past forced me to become hard to the prospect of death abroad. Nothing would be served by being constantly morose about it; life had to go on.

One of the results of this was that I kept my wits about me throughout the day. Since my sense of humor in high school could most accurately be described as "relentless," it often ended with me making some "Too Soon" jokes. Fortunately, it didn't get that bad this day, though when the fire alarm went off in class while we were watching the burning tower I couldn't resist cracking "How fitting."

The rest of the day was mostly normal, with a few teachers choosing to put the news on in class. I learned during lunch that Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility, though some other groups had as well and we weren't sure who to trust.

I didn't think much then about how much the political climate could change. At that point, I saw Bush as simply a buffoon and typical Republican President I could trust to be wrong on most controversial issues to come his way (and an election thief, but this wasn't a part of a larger pattern yet). After it, he used this as the excuse for virtually everything he did and started to transform the US into a police state. A few months after, when I noticed all the changes in effect, particularly in airports, I realized that Bush had played right into their hands and let the terrorists win by turning the country into a state of fear.

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