Looking back a decade after September 11

Like the Kennedy assassination, for those who are old enough to remember it, most people probably remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. My parents happened to be staying at the Sheraton National that day, which is the hotel I stayed at on my first visit to Washington DC, back in 1980. It literally overlooks the Pentagon and in fact, I walked over to visit someone I knew there because it was so close that it wasn’t even worth a cab ride.

My parents took a bus home and I’m not sure if my father ever got on an airplane again, but beyond grave concern for the larger situation in our country and the world, my personal response to the whole thing was to take to the air. It was odd to hear no jets flying overhead and to see no contrails in the sky for days, but by September 19, I found myself walking through O’Hare to board a plane. You could have fired a cannon down the concourse and not hit anyone, although you couldn’t have gotten a corkscrew through security, where there was no waiting. It was pretty much me, crew members and security people with dogs. Not many people wanted to fly. At my destination, there were few people at the hotel besides aircrews and we speculated together about what might lie ahead.

In the ensuing months, airlines were doing everything they could to get people back on the planes. Fares were cheap, upgrades were easy and I was flying around the globe for dirt, while collecting gazillions of bonus miles. Congress had bailed the airlines out to keep them flying and I sat in planes that often had excess elbow room as people kept mentally running that videotape of planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t waste the opportunity because there may never be a time like that again. Many people had much taken away from them on September 11, 2001. Ironically and in a way, it literally gave me the world.

Of course, September 11 had a much greater impact, even for me. I had a chance to focus on it several weeks ago when I ran into a crew from Wisconsin Public Television interviewing people on the 400 Block in downtown Wausau for an upcoming PBS special:


I was happy to see that Herman Cain subsequently came to the realization that some of his comments about Muslims really don’t match up too well with the U.S. Constitution.

“While I stand by my opposition to the interference of Sharia law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” Cain said in a late July statement. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.”

For what it’s worth, I would be opposed to the interference of Sharia law into the American legal system, too. The big difference is that I refuse to accept the notion that it is actually a significant issue. Last November, 70 percent of Oklahomans voted to ban the use of Sharia law in their state courts (as if that was happening.) Since 2009, the topic – moot as it may be – has come up in a couple of dozen states. Several GOP presidential candidates besides Cain have already felt compelled to play the Sharia law card as they troll for votes among the paranoid conspiracy theorists of the far right. The San Angelo, Texas Tea Party will be taking up the threat of Sharia law in the U.S. at their meeting this week.

So while I was happy to see bin Laden finally held accountable for his actions when he was killed this past May, I don’t think it’s any real answer to the complicated web of long-term factors that created the environment for the events of September 11, 2001. In some ways, we’re fanning the flames for the next horrific event, with plenty of people who ought to know better being more than happy to lead the way with inane, delusional, nationalistic pandering. In terms of creating a safer and more peaceful world, I truly hope that we can make a lot more progress over the next decade than we have over the last.



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