We all know the facts. On Sept. 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Eighteen minutes later, just as people were beginning to comprehend what had just happened, American Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the second tower. Forty minutes after that, after the President declared this “a national tragedy,” yet another plane crashed into the Pentagon. These are the facts, but there is a story behind these facts.
We’ve all seen the pictures. There are pictures of the two towers engulfed in smoke and flames as they toppled to the ground. There are pictures of crying, grieving families. There are pictures of scared, soot-covered souls emerging from the rubble and wreckage. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But whose words are they?
“I went to a high school up north, only about 20 minutes from the city,” Danielle Grinblat, sophomore accounting major, said. “A lot of kids had parents who worked in the towers. My dad worked two blocks from Ground Zero.”
She said that the entire school fell into shock and people were rushing around trying to find out if their families were OK.
“I’ll never forget that scene in my head – the panic, the crying,” she said. “It was all really horrible.”
Sept. 11 was so horrible that Bush declared it a national holiday, Patriot Day. It was so terrible that it led to a sudden and short-lived backlash against Arabs and Arab-Americans. It was so awful that it paved the way for the unopposed passing of the controversial Patriot Act. It was so incredible that, for some time, the nation did nothing but mourn.
Two years have passed and most have stopped mourning. Did anything really change?
“A lot of people aren’t as naive as they used to be,” Grinblat said. “It opened their eyes. It was a real smack in the face.”
Sylvia Lugo, a junior history major, felt similar to Grinblat. “At first, it made us feel very vulnerable and scared,” Lugo said. “But then we decided to fight back and now we have this kick-ass attitude going.”
The “kick-ass attitude” that Lugo mentions speaks of an intolerance of terrorism and a resolution that America will never again play the victim on such a grand scale. This defense has been cited by the President as the impetus behind America’s involvement in Iraq. It has also been the reason given for National Security alerts and increased defense spending, but are we really any safer than we were two years ago?
“Even with all of the heightened security, we’re still vulnerable,” Carlos Hernandez, junior political science major, said. “We still have the potential to be attacked. The more we get involved in places like Iraq, the more potential there is.”
From the moment the first plane struck the tower to the moment the first bomb fell on Afghanistan, the question in the minds of many Americans was: why? Why did any of this happen and was any of it necessary for anyone?
“In order to understand the Sept. 11 attacks, we must understand the level of hostility in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan,” Alan Dawley, professor of history, said. “Places that have been impacted by American wealth and power.”
Two years later, some of those questions remain unanswered. The tragedy, however, is far from forgotten. There are remembrances and memorials and ceremonies to mark the occasion. In short, people still care.
But will they care in five years? Or in 10?
“I hope it will be remembered,” Lugo said.
“It definitely will,” Beth Hirsch, junior elementary education major, said. “It is our generation’s Pearl Harbor. Twenty years from now, people will be like, ‘Remember when the towers fell?'”
“I think it’s faded already,” Hernandez said. “Yeah, it’ll be remembered. But not as it is now. It’s not a Pearl Harbor.”
Another Pearl Harbor? Or “merely” another Oklahoma City? Only time will tell.