We’re in the deluge of 9/11 reflections. Articles, documentaries, ceremonies, and tweet storms. It’s everywhere.
And it should be.
I find myself wanting to do nothing but engross myself in all of them while also avoiding every last one.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about if I have anything useful to add.
I’m not sure that I do.
I’ve written about my experiences in and around 9/11 – a lot. I’m from New York City. My father worked for the FDNY. I joined the Army just before 9/11 and it happened while I was at jump school. My entire military and academic career has been wrapped up in what happened, why, and our response to it.
That’s all personally interesting, but it’s not that different from most folks I serve with. There are variations of intensity and experience, but it’s all very similar.
Instead of thinking about what it all means for me, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means for us.
9/11 was a psychological weapon of mass destruction.
It shocked us into action and overreaction. It was a power-punch directly to the forehead. We were shook.
Do you remember this video (2003) of Tom Friedman discussing our reaction to 9/11?
“We need to see American boys and girls, going house to house, from Basra and Baghdad, asking ‘what part of this sentence don’t you understand?‘”
Watch the video. It’s angry. It’s absurd. It’s counterproductive. I don’t agree with the argument.
But I also remember this sentiment being the feeling in the air in the days, weeks, and years directly after 9/11. It didn’t matter what was logical. It mattered how we felt. We made decisions and we carried them out.
Then twenty years goes by.
When I think about 9/11 now, I don’t really thinking about 9/11 at all. What I think about is the GWOT effect.
What I think about is the burning desire to help, to marshal that patriotism into action and churn, and churn, and churn. And have it come up empty.
“To be sent overseas to divide by zero.”
I’ve seen men and women of all ranks and in all different jobs throw themselves into the fire only to get burned.
What began as a mission of justice became something much grander.
So here we are.
Twenty years is a long time.
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