Future conversation with The Abstracted Daughter:
TAE: "six years before you were born a horrible catastrophe occurred that forever changed America."
TAD: "9/11? Boring! We learned about in history class. Dad, did you know that the number of Americans killed in 9/11 was 3,000 but the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam war was 20 times that? Almost 60,000 people! And the number of Americans killed in World War II was 150 times the number killed in 9/11; 450,000 Americans!
TAE: Yes, I know.
TAD: So why is 9/11 such a big deal?
James Fallows on 9/11:
On November 2, 2001, a driver on the Washington Beltway cut me off in traffic and gave someone else the finger. I remember the date because I thought, The 9/11 era is over.
In fact, the 9/11 era was both transitory and permanent. The political moment in which the United States could have done anything to address basic problems—notably, reliance on imported oil, which then cost about $25 per barrel—was gone within six months. Other consequences of 9/11 will stay with us. It is hard to imagine when airline travel will be “normal” again, or when no American troops will serve in Iraq.
For several years after the attacks, saying that a policy or idea reflected “pre-9/11 thinking” could end the discussion. But by 2005, some people, mainly academics, began arguing carefully that too much alarm over possible terrorism could be self-defeating. They said that 9/11 was a moment of unprecedented shock for America but did not overturn every previous principle of how the United States should deal with other nations or preserve its own liberties.
Early last year, a British Cabinet member announced that his government would stop using the term war on terror, because it united and perversely dignified disparate terrorist groups. The U.S. electorate made essentially the same decision this year, in rejecting Rudy Giuliani’s bid for the presidency. His approaches to economic, legal, and foreign-policy questions all began: “On 9/11 … ” Seven years afterward, that is no longer enough.
I remember exactly where I was the morning the Twin Towers were hit. Most of us do. But I also remember exactly where I was when I kissed a girl the first time, I remember exactly where I was when I graduated high school, I remember exactly where I was when I got my acceptance letter to college, and another acceptance letter to graduate school. I remember exactly where I was when I asked Mrs. Abstracted Engineer to be my wife, and I remember exactly where I was when The Abstracted Daughter was born. I remember exactly where I was when I first truly believed in God and I remember exactly the bench I was sitting on at Tall Oaks Church Camp on a Thursday night when I finally accepted Christ into my life.
The point is, events, good or bad, mark our lives like signposts. But they are the past; we live, and we learn, and we move on. If we let the bad events supercede the good and let them define our actions and overshadow our lives, if we allow them to fester inside us and dictate who we are, then we lose something of what makes us humans: the ability to rise from the ashes and rebuild ourselves from within, better than before.
Did 9/11 make us stronger? Sometimes I would argue yes, sometimes I would argue no. Personally, no setback in my life has truly made me stronger until I learned from it, and learned to smile again.
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