Reflecting on the costs and gains of a post-9/11 world
“Put your feet in those two squares, face the wall, hands above your head.” The gulag? No. It was San Diego International Airport. It was last week.
I was going through the latest incarnation of post-9/11 airport security, the body scanner. It is either the most efficient, thorough and fastest way of getting people aboard airliners without such things as weapons and bombs, or it’s the government’s latest assault on our civil liberties. I count myself a civil libertarian, but the body-scanner flap is much teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling about nothing.
It’s a small price to pay for a little peace of mind at 35,000 feet.
This seems an appropriate day to ponder such things. Ten years and one day ago, getting on an airplane was much easier — and much more dangerous.
That we’ve gone 10 years without another terrorist attack says somebody did something right. Yes, yes, I know, there were plenty of mistakes during the Bush years, but that is not what this is about.
Every skyscraper in America that was standing on Sept. 12, 2001, is still standing today. And there are many new ones, including one rising where the Twin Towers stood that will be a testament to the resilience of the United States.
We still move about the country and the world freely and we still do it with relative ease. The odd part of the equation is that nearly three years into the Obama presidency, we’re operating under virtually the same national security machinery and policies put in place by his predecessor. Contrary to candidate Obama, President Obama changed virtually nothing. Remember Gitmo? Still there.
It’s not just at airports where we see the effects of 9/11.
Someone called it the saddest day in American history. So we grieved. But for a few glorious weeks we were also a country that stood together as one and we all tried our darndest to out-patriotic each other. We have a 48-star flag at our house because I didn’t get to the stores before they sold out of American flags and the only place I could find one was at an antique store.
Everyone fell in love with “the troops.” All of them. It’s a love affair that goes on to this day and it’s one we all should hope lasts a long, long time. Those of us who went to Vietnam find this new admiration for military service to be an interesting phenomenon — and a welcome one.
The events of 10 years ago today touched every American in some way, large or small. It was an event that was impossible to escape.
We couldn’t hide from the horror of watching the World Trade Center towers come pancaking down, knowing that thousands of our countrymen were dying as the buildings collapsed in lower Manhattan. Nor could we escape the pride we felt when the president, a few days later, his arm around a fireman atop the rubble, promised to bring whoever was responsible to justice.
We all went through the jitters of our first airplane trip post 9/11 and then we all watched as American troops began the first of what would be two costly — $1.3 trillion and counting — wars in the Middle East. The cost of those wars defines to a great extent the tenor of our ugly public discourse today.
I took a little heat a few months ago when I wrote in support of a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. I still support it, but I understand why someone wouldn’t. Such opposition has nothing to do with racism. It has everything to do with a normal human reaction to an abnormal human act. While cruising around the Internet looking for ideas for this column I came across a headline on a story that asked the question: “Are We More Tolerant of Muslims 10 Years After 9/11”?
It seems to me that if we live in a country where we can even raise that question, then we live in a better country than any of those 19 evil young Muslim men who boarded four airliners 10 years ago today and changed the world as we knew it.
What if each of them had been been told to put his feet in the squares, face the wall and put his hands above his head …