Tomorrow America and the world will remember one of the most horrifying and well executed terrorist attacks ever perpetrated. It is the single most horrifying and well-executed terrorist attack that America has seen, and the only one that has deeply affected me personally.
Five years ago tonight I was flying an American Airlines DC10 home to Los Angeles from Orlando, Florida after the very fun and exuberant wedding of a friend. I fell into bed in the early morning hours still “flying” from a great trip.
My phone rang just shortly after 7:00 on the morning of 9/11. This was a huge breach of my “don’t call me before 9:00″ rule, but I answered the phone anyway, in case it was an emergency. Despite being a mid-September day, the sun was already very bright in my bedroom and its light streamed across my bed. I could tell that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, without even having to look out the window. It was a perfect day.
The caller was my sister, and she told me that “America was being attacked”. Huh? Attacked? What did that mean? “The twin towers have been hit and so has the Pentagon”. Hit? With what? “Turn on the TV”. I did. Just in time to watch the first tower fall. I thought that it must be the 21st century equivalent of “War of the Worlds” and not a real event. Obviously I was wrong. I watched my TV, riveted by the incomprehensible events I saw unfolding before me. I don’t think I turned my TV off for the next two weeks.
The world experienced a revival of sorts after America was attacked. America, defender of nations, was in need of defense and support. Even if all that meant was to light a candle in the darkness in Warsaw or London. In those days and weeks the world reflected on what an Americanless world would look like, and I believe they trembled at the thought. How many nations exist because of the largesse of America? How many nations exist because America opened its wallets and sent its sons and daughters to their defense when they were under oppression, and under foreign rule, and being crammed into death camps? How many nations “owe” America money and how many nations’ soil has soaked up the blood of America’s best? But that support was fleeting. People really prefer to dislike America.
So, five years have passed. America no longer enjoys the support of the world that rallied to her side in the days and weeks that followed. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the war in Afganistan, the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, the war on drugs, “global warming”, Cowboy Diplomacy, or anything like that. As I said before, people really prefer to dislike America. All those “reasons” are really just excuses for the dislike that already exists. I recently travelled on British Airways with 70 American kids. All extremely well-behaved, quiet, and respectful kids. There was no reason for the English flight crew to openly dislike them, to treat them rudely and to call them “bloody American kids” to their faces, but they did. They didn’t call them that because our president didn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty, or because not enough WMD have yet been found in Iraq. They openly displayed their dislike of these young kids (who were more well-behaved than the rest of the paying passengers) because they dislike AMERICA.
By and large, America now stands alone. We have been blessed these past five years that we have not suffered another serious attack on our own soil. But it isn’t because we all take our shoes off and run them through an X-ray machine at the airport before we fly. I don’t kid myself that any of those security measures stops any sort of terrorism. A determined terrorist will figure out a way to kill us if he/she has a mind to do so. It is only a matter of time. And when it happens, it won’t be because our president wasn’t alert, or because our immigration laws aren’t strict enough or enforced well enough, or because there isn’t enough funding to put air marshalls on every flight. It’ll be because there are people out there that simply hate Americans because they live in America, and they hate America.
Friends, it goes way deeper than politics, and we need to start accepting that. We are fighting an enemy we cannot see. An enemy that has no country of its own. And by not calling that enemy by its real name, we let it live in the shadows and we delight it by fighting the symptoms of the sickness instead of the sickness itself.