9/11: Yes to Commemoration, No To Commiseration

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On the morning of September 11, 2007, I was in the security line at O'Hare Airport. At exactly 8:46 a.m., the entire line stopped and the concourse almost instantly went silent for a full minute. There was no announcement; no one said a thing. Everyone knew what it meant. When the minute passed, life resumed.

As a society, we are right to have these remembrances in honor of the more than 3000 people who died on September 11, 2001. And we are right to further honor the people who have given their lives since then in the struggle to thwart a repeat of those attacks. Even if we as individuals had no direct human impact from either the attacks themselves or the wars in their aftermath, our involvement in aviation means that we are unavoidably connected to the after effects. When we drive through an airport gate and idle while it closes, negotiate a security line or apply in triplicate for a photo ID card to access the ramp, we remember. When a local family grieves over the loss of serviceman, we remember.

Next Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and I daresay no one will be waking up in surprise to what day it is. I suspect everyone will have their own private means of commemorating that awful day. I know I will and it will involve carrying on my life as usual. For some reason, humans like squared corners, crossed Ts and round numbers and 10, marking the passage of a decade, ignites a peculiar kind of retrospection.

Thus, this week, the cable channels promise a full six days of 9/11 programming. Our local TV station plans a daily report leading into next Sunday, since some of the hijackers were trained at Venice, my home airport. And, of course, President George W. Bush was in Sarasota when the attacks commenced.

Editors plan this coverage because they believe viewers and readers want to see it, to vicariously relive the event. Perhaps. But I'm not one of them. No disrespect, but I won't be watching much, if any of it, for I think as right as it is to remember, it's just more important to move forward. As awful as the attacks were, we have damaged ourselves far more in reaction and in our obsessive and often ill-advised attempts to prevent a repeat. That's exactly how terrorism is supposed to work and in this case, it has, brilliantly.

To me, the survival lesson we have to learn is resilience, to put the tiny risk of terrorism in perspective and to understand it is not nearly the inflated threat we imagine it to be. It has never and it does not now threaten the Republic. What most threatens is unreasonable fear, over reaction and a political class that capitalizes on both as a cudgel to gain votes or to raise an agency's budget without restraint. Even this week comes another report from TSA illuminating light aircraft as a terror threat.

The challenge is to keep things like this in perspective, if not to reject them entirely. Even if such threats materialize--which they very well could--we do ourselves no favors by behaving as though the future of the country hinges on what is, in the end, nothing but criminal activity. The challenge is one of balance, to commemorate and honor without believing the government's often exaggerated sense of risk and, for me personally, not wallowing in re-runs that do little more than act as a fear multiplier.

That's my plan, anyway. What's yours?

Comments (43)

"...but I wonít be watching much, if any of it, for I think as right as it is to remember, itís just more important to move forward. As awful as the attacks were, we have damaged ourselves far more in reaction and in our obsessive and often ill-advised attempts to prevent a repeat."


I also won't be watching much this week. It will just be a reminder that we let the terrorists win.

The goal of terrorism isn't necessarily to kill people, but to make a society fearful and to force them to change their way of life. The attacks of 11-September-2001 have done that in spades.

* Who'd have ever thought we would spend billions on a bloated bureaucracy that only protects against the last attack and to most is now nothing more than an irritant?

* Who'd have thought we would have to take off our shoes before boarding an airliner?

* Who would have thought that the irritation and time it takes to go through airport security means most people would now rather drive unless the trip is longer than 4-500 miles?

* Who would have thought it would become impossible to carry a bottle of water on board an airliner?

In Great Britain during the Blitz of World War II, London, Coventry, Plymouth, Manchester, and Liverpool suffered more than we did on September 11th, with 43,000 killed and more than a million made homeless, but their attitude was, "Keep calm and carry on."

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 4, 2011 9:14 PM    Report this comment

We let the terrorist change our way of life, and much of that change was self-inflicted. We did more damage to ourselves than the terrorists did. We needed someone to say, "Keep calm, and carry on," instead we spent billions creating a new security-industrial complex.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 4, 2011 9:15 PM    Report this comment

At the risk of restating the obvious, with the exception of some over-zealous / starving flight instructors, Part 121 airliners facilitated 9-11, not GA. What a miss-applied price GA has paid in the intervening 10 years. What was that about absolute power corrupts, absolutely?

Posted by: David Friedman | September 5, 2011 7:18 AM    Report this comment

I share your sentiments exactly!

Posted by: James Hiatt | September 5, 2011 7:18 AM    Report this comment

Paul: I cold not have said that better myself. This latest press release is nothing but fear-mongering on the part of our government in an attempt to remind the sheeple that they, the bloated security bureaucracies, are "protecting" them. A bureaucracies first charter is to protect itself, to justify its existence. Our country would be a much better place without the TSA and agents of other organizations hell-bent on taking away our freedoms.

Posted by: Thomas Bush | September 5, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

Yes, the latest fear propaganda from the overblown, ridiculous government agency is as insane and illogical as any other notion they have ever had. Our tiny 4 place GA aircraft has only enough useful load to carry enough explosive to kill the occupants of the airplane. Loaded with explosives, that would be one person, the pilot. TSA and Homeland security officials and workers have no experience with and do not understand ANY aircraft. They're just your typical cop types who love to force their perceived authority on people who are not the problem so they can get their wood for the day. Typical idiot cop mentality. Why continue to strangle GA? You've already killed it.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | September 5, 2011 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I totally agree with you on this one.

Posted by: Unknown | September 5, 2011 8:05 AM    Report this comment

I will be avoiding the coverage as well. I am tired of giving the terrorist groups exactly what they want.

Posted by: Rod Pollard | September 5, 2011 8:43 AM    Report this comment

The idea is to never forget. I have always appreciated the medias' re-showing footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Whether it's a failure of our public schools or just human nature, Americans need to be regularly reminded of how fortunate we are to have this republic and how easily we can lose it through inattention to history.

Posted by: tom herbert | September 5, 2011 9:15 AM    Report this comment

We are allowing overreaching government to further invade our private and public lives in the name of security. Some of our founders did not agree with this approach to governing.
I STILL don't understand why the felonious assaults by the TSA on commercial passengers is allowed to continue. We have become apathetic.

Posted by: rick ward | September 5, 2011 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Interesting that although a lot of opinion diversity is shown on most matters posted here, on this subject everyone to this point has been in near-total agreement.

Gary Dikkersí invocation of WW-II Englandís response to the Blitz is dead on. Although I in no way intend to disparage the loss of life in New York, it is a simple fact that the damage America suffered was only a pinprick compared to what happened in England, yet compare the responses of the two countries.

Seemingly without a thought we willing delivered to the terrorists exactly what only in their wildest dreams they could have hoped for...an incredibly massive over-reaction that even a decade later continues to inflict social and monetary damage to America and the western world that is many orders of magnitude beyond the actual wound of 9/11.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 5, 2011 1:24 PM    Report this comment

Exactly, it would be a brilliant plan to relegate all terrorist related news to the bottom of every news bulletin in the tiniest of print, where it belongs. These bad types will then starve. BTW I have that sign "keep calm and carry on" in my cockpit.

Now the TSA criminalise me with three or four fingerprintings in the last few years, they are making a good living out of the cancer they purport to control.

Posted by: john moriarty | September 5, 2011 1:43 PM    Report this comment

My nod will be to fly my flag like I do for Veteran's day, Memorial day, etc. I agree with Paul's mature and objective view on terrorism's threat and potential.

Of more concern to me are those who insist 'never forget.' It's never explained what exactly we should not forget - usually it's the insistance of 'their' viewpoint of the event, which could be entirely different from mine. That only shows me they need more time to move on from it, which is perfectly ok, but might resent others who are able to.

9/11 to me gave rise to this new intolerance and erroneous 'righteous anger' by some who use it for their own purposes of power and control as Paul alluded to. Instead of looking toward those who display the objective maturity to get thru life's events well, they're oftentimes wrongly riduculed as weak, thoughtless, shallow or unpatriotic - precisely the opposite of their newly aquired state. This is where, at least in America, terrorism is very effective on the citizenry. We've become impatient on the long view - you don't gain thirty pounds over time yet lose it in a few days - yet puerile for instant results with things that require time to resolve. Terrorism has pitted us against each other to new heights, and it never had to be this way. Just watch people blame government, politicians and all things but themselves and it sadly comes into view.

Posted by: David Miller | September 5, 2011 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Paul, your editorial is perfect. It's so refreshing to see a sane mind evaluate what happened ten years ago. I also appreciate the others' responses, especially Gary Dikkers'. It was never necessary to establish a new department, Homeland Security, to check on ordinary airline passengers. It would have been eminently sensible and far less paranoid to "Keep calm and carry on."

Posted by: Manuel Erickson | September 5, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

How can we ever hope to change this? CNN and Fox can always dig up somebody in an airport security line to say "It's worth it because it keeps us safe' and that person instantly becomes the irrefutable representative of all airline passengers. Nobody in elected office dares to say a word against the Transportation Security State for fear they'll somehow be blamed if another attack succeeds. Seems utterly hopeless to me; guys like Patrick Smith at Salon are crying in the wilderness for some sanity but can't reach more than a handful of people. This is Dick Cheney's America now, the rest of us just try to live here.

Posted by: PAUL DE ZAN | September 5, 2011 4:42 PM    Report this comment

Paul - you a absolutely correct. I find the whole 10th anniversary thing slightly "uncomfortable". I've spent the last 10 years "carrying on" and not letting the SOBs get to me, my family, my business, or our way of life. To have the whole "bad dream" replayed over the the next week somehow dumbfounding and a bit of an insult to all of us who remember it in our own way every day. Paul, you are absolutely right on, but seemingly in the vast minority.

Posted by: LARRY BAUM | September 5, 2011 6:34 PM    Report this comment

I've always been inspired by people's courage both at war and in civilian life. After 9/11 one moral to be remembered is that we are a tough nation and will resist challenging forces. Commemorating those who died and those who endured is rekindling the courage needed to prevent this from happening again.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 5, 2011 9:05 PM    Report this comment

From "endoftheamericandream-dot-com": "The sad truth is that America is not a better place after 9/11. We have betrayed our founding fathers and we have cast aside many of our liberties and freedoms because we are so afraid that we can't even see straight.

"Fortunately, a growing number of Americans is actually waking up. More Americans than ever are tired of being treated like garbage and this is starting to be reflected in recent polling. For example, according to a new Gallup poll an all-time record 63 percent of Americans have a negative view of the federal government.

"Hopefully we will start to see a cultural shift back in the direction of increased liberty and freedom.

"If not, we are in for a total nightmare. If we continue on the path that we are on, this nation is going to become an absolutely horrific place in which to live.

"A totalitarian police state is not going to keep you safe, but it will make your life a living hell."

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 5, 2011 9:10 PM    Report this comment

Thoughtful, moderate, insightfull editor and commentors. One more reason it is such fun to hang around airplanes. Perhaps it is not even a coincidence, think about it : we are trained to think everything through, we enjoy our bird-eye perspective, we do our own analysis based on the available info and make our own decisions. We are almost un-brainwash-able ! That aside : well written Paul.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | September 6, 2011 5:33 AM    Report this comment

I plan to do what I've done every year since those faceless cowards decided to wage war on the US. I'm going to get in an airplane as PIC and go into the wild blue and FLY!! That and flying my flag in front of my house is how I prefer to mark that horrible anniversary.

Posted by: R. Doe | September 6, 2011 7:51 AM    Report this comment

What Paul said.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | September 6, 2011 8:42 AM    Report this comment

Paul wrote:
"For some reason, humans like squared corners, crossed Ts and round numbers and 10, marking the passage of a decade, ignites a peculiar kind of retrospection."

This is one of my pet peeves; anniversaries are pure fabrications of our minds. Think about it; if we had all been born with 8 fingers instead of 10, the world would have developed counting in Base-8 and would have had this anniversary some two years ago!
Likewise for yearly anniversaries, etc. Time itself does not have mileposts.

I think we should "Keep Calm and Carry On" and foregt about these artificial anniversaries.

Posted by: A Richie | September 6, 2011 9:06 AM    Report this comment

forget about these artificial anniversaries.>

not married, eh?

(or wishful thinking?) It's anniversary offers a different application for "Keep Calm and Carry On" for many of us..

Posted by: David Miller | September 6, 2011 12:46 PM    Report this comment

Speaking of Looking Forward...

"In observance of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, numerous local, state, and federal entities will hold memorial services and other events during the September 9-12, 2011 period. Some of these events will have corresponding air space restrictions.

Pilots should exercise caution and frequently check NOTAMS.

Pilots operating in the vicinity of Shanksville, PA, New York City, NY, and Washington, D.C. should especially be alert for changing airspace restrictions."

This is memory enough for me approaching a proposed trip through NY airspace this weekend

Posted by: LARRY ANGLISANO | September 6, 2011 1:19 PM    Report this comment

I've begun to see and hear discussions similar to this in the popular press. What I find disheartening is that it has taken 10 years for this sentiment to surface beyond the GA world and those few of us who tried to object to the headlong rush to restrict everything in sight. And while I agree that many people and institutions, including politicians, government agencies, and corporations, have taken advantage of 9/11 to advance their own interests, some blame must be apportioned to the public, which seems entirely too willing to sacrifice rights that others have died protecting over hundreds of years. At the risk of being called an old fart, I wonder if there is a connection between the end of civics classes in schools and the public's lack of appreciation for those hard-won rights.

Posted by: Jonathan Spencer | September 6, 2011 3:08 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul for the insightful commentary . . .
Like you I will be shutting off the media hype and going to work. You asked what I will be doing on Sunday. I'll be flying a planeload of passengers to the Hawaiian Islands and enjoying every minute of it. I will be doing so behind a bullet-proof door however. One that is not easily opened from the cabin side. We sure could have used those 15 or 20 years ago . . .

Posted by: Roger Johnson | September 6, 2011 3:31 PM    Report this comment

"I wonder if there is a connection between the end of civics classes in schools and the public's lack of appreciation for those hard-won rights."

Among political professionals--staffers, campaign advisors and so fort--you'll hear the term "low-information voter" used. It answers the above question, whether the lacks of civics classes are to blame or not.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 6, 2011 3:36 PM    Report this comment

Is it possible that anyone in the TSA or DHS ever reads these sentiments and others like them elsewhere?

Is it possible that anyone in the TSA or DHS ever questions what it is they do or why, or have any concerns that their existence and actions weaken the nation rather than protect it?

Doesn't seem to ever be the case that they do.

"All fear, all the time" the real motto of those organizations.

Posted by: Stephen Fleming | September 6, 2011 7:24 PM    Report this comment

"Is it possible that anyone in the TSA or DHS ever reads these sentiments and others like them elsewhere?"


Of course it's possible. I'm sure they do. But there is now too much money involved and too many careers to be made in the terrorism-security-industrial complex for anything to change. Since 11-Sep-01, billions and billions have been spent with almost no oversight or accountability, and it has become a very lucrative business for the contractors, consultants, and vendors involved.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 6, 2011 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Paul, your article is spot-on and you represent my sentiments exactly. Perfect. Thank you.

Posted by: Alan Young | September 6, 2011 11:08 PM    Report this comment

While I confess I did not read every single comment above, the unanimity is heartwarming. (Hunter S. Thompson )" believes America has suffered a "nationwide nervous breakdown" since 9/11, and as a result is compromising civil liberties for what he calls "the illusion of security." The compromise, he says, is "a disaster of unthinkable proportions" and "part of the downward spiral of dumbness" he believes is plaguing the country." John Glassie

Posted by: Sat Tara Khalsa | September 7, 2011 6:58 AM    Report this comment

Rather than our nation spending a whole week talking about how awful it was for 3000 of our fellow citizens to have died on that day, I would propose that we instead make it a day where we as a nation send a giant F-You to the Islamist terrorists who conspired to conduct the attack. Oh - and let us on the same day tell them where to go by dismantling the 4th Amendment crushing bureaucracy of the DHS, starting with the TSA.

Thank you Paul for stating what so many of us feel.

Posted by: Charles Seitz | September 7, 2011 9:34 AM    Report this comment

Paul: Amen!

Steve: Yes some do; some care.

Posted by: JOSEPH CORRAO | September 7, 2011 10:12 AM    Report this comment

America has been on a downward spiral ever since. Economy is in the crapper. US Dollar is so weak that you nearly need four dollars to buy a single gallon of gas... and all it took was a handful of bad guys to down a couple of buildings. Now we get to bow down to the new masters of the universe---China.
Death by a trillion self inflicted wounds.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | September 7, 2011 10:19 AM    Report this comment

I am not interested in the media or anyone else telling me how to feel on 9/11. I was 5 miles away when the plane struck the Pentagon; I drove by the smoking hole for months wondering how we let this happen. A day does not go by that I don't remember that fateful day. During the Cold War "Remember Pearl Harbor" was a relevant slogan. The wall came down; we forgot Pearl Harbor and 9/11 happened. No; I will not forget. ~warrior / patriot

Posted by: Patrick Coffey | September 7, 2011 10:56 AM    Report this comment

While the response to 9/11 has been often misguided, wrong-headed and horribly stupid, we still need to remember that we are at war. There is an enemy out there who has sworn that they will destroy our country and our allies.

We do not need wide-ranging and intrusive security measures at General Aviation (or most other points in our society). What we do need to do is identify, locate, and destroy the enemy. That will involve our national intelligence, military, and civilian resources both at home and abroad. And until we can look up and suddenly realize that it has been years since anyone has posted an Al-Qaeda video on some website or issued some press release, there is a real and definite risk to every American everyday, regardless of where they are in the world. That risk is not as high as that of an auto accident, but it is real, definite, and if ignored will eventually come to fruition. Or has everyone forgotten that Al-Qaeda has literally billions of dollars at their disposal and has tried repeatedly to buy one or more of the "missing" nuclear weapons that disappeared following the fall of the Soviet Union??!!

Posted by: Vic Renaud | September 8, 2011 10:02 AM    Report this comment

"Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither." These are wiser words than most of us could muster. It's time Americans to cut the head off the snake that stalks us inside our very own abode. When trucks, trailers and U-Haul vehicles are targeted by TSA and Homeland security the public will be outraged to the point of action. Your typical soccer mom Chevy Suburban has far more explosive carrying capability than any GA aircraft and is far, far less likely to be scrutinized in any manner. I'd start doing background checks on those owners and drivers. Then require each of them to file a route plan with the local police before leaving home. The same should apply for any delivery van or truck of any size, especially food deliveries. Those guys run willy-nilly on every street at all times of day and who knows what they might be hauling around? Your next terrorist event could fit neatly into the national truckers associations slogan, "If you've got it a truck brought it."

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | September 8, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

"Your typical soccer mom Chevy Suburban has far more explosive carrying capability than any GA aircraft and is far, far less likely to be scrutinized in any manner."


The height of that absurdity was the day in 2005 when they evacuated the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court and other buildings in Washington D.C. because a Cessna 152 was headed that way.

Only a few weeks ago two F-16s intercepted a J-3 Cub for going into the 30 nautical mile security bubble (TFR) that follows the President around. (And I don't fault the F-16 jocks. They were just doing their jobs. It's the policy we should question. With the presidential campaign season coming on, the presidential TFR will once more flit around the country shutting down GA airports everywhere it goes.)

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 8, 2011 12:29 PM    Report this comment

'..we still need to remember that we are at war.'

Only with our reaction to their bullying. There might always be terrorism - a local home invasion here recently terrorized the gun-owning occupants but was still unpreventable - but our reaction to it is the key determinative factor in its success.

Fearmongering about their mysterious, hidden strength is misguided. Even after decades of pushing and shoving with Israel, a little country in the midst of dozens of 'enemy' countries, Israel lives on in prosperity and strength. Why? Because like any bully, they only seek the immediate, fearful, angry reaction to their attack and are incapable of the long view - how their need for attention eventually only strengthens a country like America or Israel. Duh.

And this is what so many like Cheney, et.al are afraid of? These angry, confused youths couldn't take over a Dairy Queen in a stable, free country like the US. To me, they win until we change our reactions to their bullying. They got nothing else.

Posted by: David Miller | September 8, 2011 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Fantastic editorial, Paul.

Lupo Rattazzi

Posted by: LUPO RATTAZZI | September 9, 2011 11:54 AM    Report this comment

I received an email from a friend flying for UA and would like to share it in this blog.

"This weekend, United pilots will solemnly gather, side by side, with thousands of others at numerous official memorial sites across America to honor all of those people who were killed by the fanatical hijackers of four commercial airliners on that bright and clear September morning in 2001.

In truth, all United pilots have an internal, sacred memorial where we reflect and remember our friends, loved ones, and fellow crewmembers who were taken so suddenly that day. As pilots, we watched and recoiled at the evil that was done with our aircraft; we observed and recognized the sheer heroics of our crews, passengers and the first responders who performed their jobs with such selfless dedication and at such cost; we wept with sadness for the ruined lives of the innocent.

Individually and collectively United pilots will always bear the scars that resulted from the aftermath of 9/11; but, we refuse to cower in the shadow of any form of terror.

Capt. Steven W. Young
In command of flight # 508 this September 11th. 2011
B767 Service Honolulu to Los Angeles

God Bless America"

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 10, 2011 9:23 PM    Report this comment

After the fact, yes Paul, you were right that the media orgy was sickening. It was hard to avoid it, as even the NFL was celebrating the ignominious events. The entire 10 day display had such heavy Orwellian overtones that I fear for my country.

Indeed, every generation of future americans will celebrate a story that is contradicted by all available evidence.

That so much of the media participate in the coverup of the truth also makes me fear for my country. I'm glad I'm getting to be an old man.

Posted by: Richard Sinnott | September 19, 2011 8:22 AM    Report this comment

I commemorated the anniversary of 9-11 with a wonderful flight to Door County WI with my mother. I recently passed my check-ride and could not think of a better way to celebrate the Freedom that we have as Americans. I have great sympathy for those who lost their lives on 9-11 and all the Military personel fighting to protect us since. Honor them by living your life not in fear, but to the fullest extent of your ability.

The Feds have lost sight of the values this country was founded upon.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: Rick Lettow | September 20, 2011 10:35 AM    Report this comment

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