By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
It’s hard to believe that it has been twenty years since that sunny Tuesday in September when virtually every one of us was transfixed by our television screens watching New York’s twin towers erupt in smoke and then collapse.
Groups, before that day only known to CIA analysts, with strange names like Mujaheddin,Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda (which translates to something like “the base” or “the foundation”) suddenly filled our headlines and the words of our breathless news anchors.
And “Jihad” became a term all too familiar.
That was back when the vast majority of us got our news from what has become known as “mainstream media”.
Back in those days, we all heard one story from a unified media – that was long before “alternative facts” and a chattering “twitterverse”.
American involvement with those mysterious groups had been going on in shadowy, convoluted covert activities for years, if not decades before, but now they, or someone claiming to be them, were on our soil and threatening us in ways we had never been threatened before.
And never imagined that we could.
America had been in wars before, but always thousands of miles from our borders, and, most of the time at least, with adversaries clearly defined by ideology, religion or national identity.
These new enemies had no national identity or allegiance and minimal, if any, religious roots or motivations.We didn’t know who these attackers were or where they came from.
The list of suspect host countries was long and varied; Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Mozambique, these shadowy groups already controlled territory. In several other parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, twenty years later, they threaten to.
We have spent much of the past twenty years (and more blood and treasure than any one of us would have believed possible) reaching for answers to those questions.
We did not know who or where to strike back, but strike back we did.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and several other nation-states came into our cross hairs as we sought the mastermind of the operation that stunned – and redefined – us.
It took us many years, but we finally found Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
But that, of course, was not the end.
In fact a term was added to our national vocabulary “Forever wars”.
It was a term few of us liked; “wars” plural, undefined by boundary or even by a clearly defined enemy or intended conclusion.
“Never forget” was our rallying cry and, for a few weeks at least, many of us flew or posted flags in unity.
Our president at the time, George W. Bush, urged us all to go shopping, to support the economy and to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible to insure that we didn’t “let the terrorists win”.
That term has been long forgotten now, and it has taken us years to begin to grasp what it meant, but if terrorism is based on fear, suspicion, distrust of everyone from neighbors to government agencies and “screening” (as in public searches) for public events has become routine, something has won – and it wasn’t kindness and a shared sense of community.
Back then newspapers around the world posted headlines like “We are all Americans now”.
Nations around the world unified in common cause against the newly blatant expression of terrorism.
Our new enemies were, or could be, everywhere.
Everyone, especially those with difficult to pronounce names, non-standard clothing or non-Christian faith traditions was a suspect.
Everything from our border policies to how we travel to who or what we believe has changed in light of those difficult days.
Among other things, we in America lost certainty and trust.
We had a confidence back then. It was a solid, quiet, “we can do this” style of confidence, not the brash, rude and all too often violent type we see all too often on our streets, online forums and public meetings today.
Back then, the majority of us would have gladly “taken one for the team”, but now we scream like toddlers when requested to do, or pay for, something for the common good.
We trusted our government, respected our journalists and, at some indefinable, implicit level, trusted each other.
It seems like a thousand years ago.
From face masks during the worst pandemic in a century, to voting rights to paying taxes, if there is anything we are NOT in 2021, it is united.
But we were. And for an all too brief time the crisis brought out the best in us.
Twenty years later we have to ask ourselves what it is that we did, or even intended to, accomplish.
And just in case you did forget
At 8:46 am, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, five hijackers took control of American Airlines Flight 11 and flew it into the heart of New York City and the northern facade of the World Trade Center’s North Tower (1 WTC).
At 9:03 am, five other hijackers flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the southern facade of the South Tower (2 WTC).
At 9:37 am, another five hijackers flew American Airlines flight 77 into the western facade of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.
At 10:03 am, four hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
There are many collections of archives and video clips commemorating those difficult days that still, to a large degree, define us. Here is one of the best: https://911digitalarchive.org/.
As the nation and the world reflects on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, an epic new FRONTLINE documentary, America After 9/11, traces the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks and devastating consequences across four presidencies – and still counting.
This is a PBS documentary, but if you have questions, or want to sign up for this free, virtual event, look here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/america-after-911-tickets-167083129137?.