Everything changed that day. We can’t deny it. We can’t avoid it. What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, a cobalt blue weekday a decade ago, rocked America’s foundation. A series of terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and in the skies over rural Pennsylvania left us heartbroken and frightened. It was a day most of us old enough to emotionally archive will remember for a lifetime. Just like the Kennedy assassination a generation before, we will share the collective memory and trauma of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center collapsing in flames and the Pentagon in our nation’s capital punctured and smoldering. The images are seared forever in our consciousness.
If recalling the attacks themselves on anniversaries like this is not enough to stir our stomachs or pinch our nerves, there is ample evidence all around that reminds us that life changed forever on that inglorious day. Access to public places like museums, government buildings and even sports venues has been curtailed. Metal detectors, cameras and screening devices, not to mention hand searches of bags or pat downs, are common. Many high-rises and office-building lobbies now employ uniformed personnel as a deterrent to outsiders. Transportation hubs, particularly airports, have undergone some of the most dramatic makeovers in the wake of 9/11. It’s hard to fathom that not long ago, eager family members or business colleagues escorted air travelers to and from airline gates.
Now, a gauntlet of buttoned-down blue-shirted TSA workers runs your bags, shoes and most private of items through 21st-century screening devices. In fact, one of the most expensive and technologically advanced improvements at the soon-to-be-opened new Terminal 3 at John Wayne Airport is the basement security-screening area. Officials have installed and are testing some of the fastest x-ray monitors to scan checked luggage.
But the impact goes beyond the physical intrusion in our lives. The psychological dent is real. Just last week, when the strongest East Coast earthquake in a century struck the region, rattled residents told reporters that their first reaction to the noise and shaking was that it was a terrorist attack. When it wasn’t, one Virginia attorney told CNN, “Thank God it was only an earthquake.” The fear of another foreign assault still rests just below the surface. As a result, racial profiling is still part of post-9/11 America. It is wrong, but on some level unavoidable with our growing diversity and the sheer size of our population. What 9/11 did was put America on alert. The most trusting nation on the planet is less trusting today of outsiders and even some of our citizens.
I don’t have an issue with any of the measures we have adopted to fortify our society, and if anyone should be steamed it might be me. Having had a hip and ankle replaced, I am a TSA poster boy. Every time I fly, I receive a full-body search while family members or colleagues wait. Inconvenient? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely, when you recall the images of jetliners broadsiding the World Trade Center.
The cost to adjust to life after 9/11 has been significant, emotionally and in hard dollars. But the last time I checked, we are still the model of freedom. We’re not perfect, and although the physical barriers to accessing public places and to travel are annoying, we have reluctantly come to accept them. And, there isn’t a piece of soil I’d rather call home than America.
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