Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 + 11=?

When the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I told someone, "This is the worst day of my life."

I didn't know then what I meant, but it felt as if the crust of the earth had suddenly cracked and we could never again feel safe going about our daily lives. Over time, that feeling has receded, but the world has not been the same.

What we lost that day eleven years ago is social trust--the sense of not having to be constantly on guard against the malice of unknown people who want to hurt or kill us for no personal reason whatsoever.

Before 9/11, we took much for granted: We could walk safely in front of cars that would stop for red lights, eat food that had passed through the hands of countless unseen people, turn over our children every day to strangers who would protect and nurture them.

We still do all that and more, but we can’t board a plane, sit in a stadium, attend a midnight movie, go to church or walk a crowded street with the same security we felt before 9/11/01.

Our public life has become meaner, coarser and, in this political season, we are not the people we were before--fiercely opinionated, intensely competitive but optimistic and generous underneath it all.

As he should, President Obama puts a hopeful gloss on the anniversary: “The last decade has been a difficult one, but together, we have answered those questions and come back stronger as a nation.

“We took the fight to al Qaeda, decimated their leadership, and put them on a path to defeat. And thanks to the courage and skill of our intelligence personnel and armed forces, Osama bin Laden will never threaten America again.”

Yet this week the weirdest “60 Minutes” in memory puts a disquieting punctuation mark to the era. A man with a false name and false face tells the inside story of the raid that killed bin Laden.

In a reminder of the movie “Face/Off” in which John Travolta and Nicolas Cage surgically traded appearances, “Mark Owen” tells a minute-by-minute assassination tale replete with mockups of the compound and tiny helicopters, ending with his personal celebration at Taco Bell.

From all this, we may very well eventually “come back stronger as a nation,” but it will take time and, in some ways, we will never be quite the same.

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