Where were you on September 11, 2001?
It’s a question that everyone can answer: “I was driving my kids to school when I heard the news on the radio,” “I was having my morning coffee and watching TV when the first plane hit the north tower,” “I was in history class when the principal came in and turned on the radio and we listened to reports in silence.”
The Sept. 11 Attacks, forever after referred to as 9/11, were a collective experience on par with the VE Day or the moon landing, but with a far more tragic and traumatic effect on everyone who heard the news.
This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and yet it almost feels like yesterday that our co-workers or classmates gathered around the television and watched transfixed and horrified as first one tower, then the other collapsed in an explosion of dust and debris. We all remember the confusion, the shock and the fear that gripped us. And as hyperbolic as it sounds, 9/11 truly was a day that changed the world forever.
The 9/11 attacks launched the controversial War on Terror, a war that culminated in the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq with poor consequences. A war on freedoms was also waged alongside the actual war, all in the name of extending security to a frightened populace. A rather meaningless colour chart indicating threat levels to the United States was introduced – a chart which rarely dropped below the yellow or “significant” risk of terrorist attack.
And, as a response to the initial act of extremism, the political discourse of America followed suit. The government encouraged citizens to be “vigilant” by reporting anything suspicious. A widespread paranoia and xenophobia began to permeate American culture. Stations like Fox News, relying on controversy and sensationalism, became extremely popular. A wave of jingoism swept the world, best summed up by American president George W. Bush’s famous pronouncement. “You’re either with us, or against us.”
On the other side of the issue, a variety of opposing forces assembled, most characterized by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, who became popular for their biting comedy and scathing satirical look at a post-9/11 world, in which feelings of fear more than facts or evidence determined the course of action.
Even though the cultural phenomena described occurred in the United States, its effects were felt throughout the world. Travel, especially by plane, became much more frustrating and time-consuming in all parts of the world. Arguably, the atmosphere created by 9/11 was a catalyst for movements such as the Tea Party, whose strict adherence to its ideology drove the United States to the brink of default and the world economy into further chaos, and the reaction to the attacks branded a wide variety of minority groups as dangerous and fearful, even though terrorism is something which knows no racial or religious bounds.
There is no denying the 9/11 has touched us all and changed the world forever. The effects of that day, even 10 years later, are still being felt in innumerable ways all around the world. Although we have increasingly invasive measures levelled on us to ensure our security, most people feel less secure than ever.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Who knew his words would ring more true than ever over 200 years later.