9/11: Yes to Commemoration, No To Commiseration


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?