There’s a general tone of melancholy – even lament – out there as we commemorate another anniversary of 9/11/01.
And that seems appropriate. But it’s not as much because of 9/11 as it is because of the pass we have arrived at today, which sometimes feels like a different planet from 9/11.
I had to reflect this morning, on seeing Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” meditation, that a big segment of the American people is not on the same page as our opinion leaders anymore. It’s as if the opinion leaders think we still live on Planet 9/11, and the clear-eyed members of the general public see that we don’t.
Here’s the passage from Geraghty’s 9/11 commentary that got me thinking:
And yet, it feels like we’re still processing the lessons of that day. For many of us, the brutal lesson of 9/11 was that we spent our lives walking around believing that unimaginable nightmarish horrors like skyscrapers disappearing in a cloud of smoke don’t just happen . . . and then one day, they did. Suddenly the unthinkable isn’t so unthinkable. And in that autumn, for many of us, the question was whether the future held even worse terrors to come. A chemical attack next time? Biological? A mushroom cloud on the horizon one day?
By and large, those worse terrors haven’t arrived — although assorted malevolent forces like the anthrax mailer, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the Fort Hood shooter certainly tried. So have we, as a country, been spending the past 14 years waiting for another shoe to drop that never will? Or will it come some day, feeling even worse when it arrives because we let go of that late-2001 dread?
As of this writing, all is quiet on the Western front.
That last sentence sums up the difference between our mainstream opinion leaders – even on the right – and the perception of the people.
All is not quiet on the Western front. Lord, have mercy on us, it’s not quiet. There’s a new menace there – and on the other three cardinal fronts as well.
In the long view, America today is under a second major attack, and it’s a bigger attack than 9/11. It’s an attack on our character as a nation: an attack of rampant lawlessness, even of anti-Americanism in our own government; an attack in which government is being weaponized against the people, and is forcing us to change not just the way we live, but what our very hopes and expectations are about what life may hold for us.
The attacks mounted on 9/11/01 had no such effect on America. 9/11 was a big day, a watershed, and it undoubtedly marked a major turning point in geopolitical history. But it wasn’t 9/11 that launched or enabled the bigger attack America is under now.
That’s what the people “get,” while too many of our opinion leaders don’t seem to. (I don’t mean to pick on Jim Geraghty, by the way, who’s a deft writer and a really smart guy.)
There’s a key way, however, in which Geraghty’s allusion to Pearl Harbor, earlier in his post, is a telling analogy for how our gut-felt sentiment about 9/11 has subsided. It’s not just the passage of time. It’s the rise of a new menace that displaces the day of infamy in our consciousness.
After World War II ended, the new menace was predatory Soviet Communism (which wasn’t new, but in geopolitical terms got a huge boost from World War II). The American people spent the entire Cold War much more concerned about that menace than the news or entertainment media were. The left-leaning media never convinced the people that their concerns were misdirected.
Today’s new menace comprises the twin threats of state-Islamism – far more organized and lethal than itinerant terrorism – and the seemingly organized turn of the U.S. federal government against the interests of America herself, both domestically and in security policy overseas.
These twin threats aren’t new either, and it’s only narrowly possible to say that their coincidental surge in the last half-decade is related to 9/11.
But if you want to understand why our feelings about commemorating 9/11 are simultaneously more mixed, scattered, foreboding, and perfunctory than they were a few years ago, start with that.
One way to feel better on 9/11 is just to know that other people out there “get” it. Perhaps these points will be a relief to many who don’t often hear them expressed, in the terms that seem very clear from ground level on the real Planet America today.
But I’d like to leave you with three little vignettes – slices of what I hope will be inspiration – related to 9/11.
One is from a post I wrote on 9/11/2009 (the first year I was blogging). It was about something that was heart-grabbing for me in the days immediately after 9/11 – just a small detail I picked up on, one of the many reports from that awful day that we all tracked obsessively at the time.
It concerned some data entry workers in the World Trade Center, who – after the first shock, when the building shook and juddered around them – stayed at their posts to get their data saved, even when their supervisor was running around urging them to GET OUT!
Now, they didn’t know at the time what had actually happened. They didn’t know a plane had flown into the tower, that their workplace was rapidly becoming a fireball, or that it would collapse before the morning was over. But…in spite of not knowing what was going on, they prioritized saving their work over panicking, or trampling each other on the way to the exits. … [A]s I read the supervisor’s story that day, I thought: Al Qaeda picked the wrong people to mess with. …
Responsibility and work ethic are just the basics for a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. But where we get these uniformed heroes from is our ordinary population, from data entry workers and clerks and bank tellers and secretaries, plumbers and farmers and construction workers and pest control servicemen and carpet cleaners. When Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11 it attacked Americans right in that building who would not abandon their posts until the work was done, and their company’s fiduciary responsibility to its clients honored. These were Americans who aren’t usually seen as heroes… But on that September day in Manhattan, a terrorist attack could not deflect them from their purpose.
These people, I thought: these people know how to live as if there is hope, and a future, and as if they will shape both by the care and responsibility they show. These people are not the ones who are going to lose this fight.
Next, let me offer a 9/11 vignette from a much better writer. I confess, this one made me tear up when I first read it nearly 14 years ago, and it still does. It’s by Jonah Goldberg, about the rescue dogs of 9/11 – heroes everyone should know about. He wrote it in 2001, in the weeks after the attacks.
Long before the rubble settled in downtown New York, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Rottweilers — as well as canines of less aristocratic lineage — were already pulling at their leashes to help with the search-and-rescue efforts. Locating the dead and searching (too often in vain) for the living is obviously an arduous and emotionally draining task for human beings, but it is no picnic for dogs either. The rubble provided unstable footing, was full of glass shards and twisted metal, and sometimes glowed red hot. Dangerous fumes, loud noises, and the equivalent of landslides were constant sources of distraction and peril. Dogs repeatedly had to limp out of the wreckage on bloody paws, the razor-edged debris slicing through even the leather boots distributed to some of them.
Worse, the stress associated with not finding survivors was extreme; dogs tasked with this assignment expect — need — to find survivors. “They don’t like to find bodies. They’ll find them, but they don’t feel rewarded,” veterinarian Douglas Wyler explained to the London Daily Telegraph. “The dogs are good, they’re professionals, but like any professional they can suffer from melancholy and depression. It’s hard for the men not to find anyone alive, and the dogs sense that.”
But the dogs persevered.
Read the whole thing, and then try to convince yourself God isn’t good. Benjamin Franklin famously said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I’d say dogs are proof God has His eye on us, and wants us to be noble and good.
The final vignette is something Howard Portnoy posted about yesterday. Now, just a brief set-up. On the eve of 9/11 this week – 10 September – what was being previewed around Capitol Hill was a potential congressional vote, on 11 September, on the JCPOA with Iran. The Senate ended up holding its decisive cloture vote (which Obama effectively “won”) on Thursday, which at least avoided handing that shabby procedural victory to America’s enemies on the anniversary of 9/11.
But in the hours just before the Senate vote, an image was going viral on social media. Over a rain-washed New York City, a great rainbow appeared – seeming to originate directly from the newly rebuilt World Trade Center.
— Ben Sturner (@leverageagency) September 10, 2015
When a rainbow appears in such a way, at such a time, it’s impossible for many to not reflect on the promise recorded in the book of Genesis (Genesis 9:8-17, NIV):
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
We report, you decide. Not every ear will hear the same thing from this third and final vignette. But I suggest, as we remember 9/11 once again, that we are at liberty to have confidence that God is not yet done with America.