Another take on 9/11
by Ted Neward
The reality is, two tall buildings that dominated the New York City skyline are gone. Madame Liberty, standing in New York Harbor, no longer has the Twin Towers to keep her company in her lonely vigil over New York. Thousands of innocent civilians--men, women, going about their daily lives, much as you're doing right now--will never look back, never see their families or their friends again.
I mourn them. More, I mourn for those they left behind, because the harder road is reserved for the ones who didn't die in the tragedy. Questions of "Why me? Why was I spared?" linger in the back of their minds, a cancerous blight to their life forevermore. Vietnam veterans report struggling with such questions even now, almost thirty years after their return. Make no mistake about it: the memorial services, the tributes, the wreaths, these aren't to comfort the spirits of those who have passed on--these are to comfort ourselves.
In the wake of the attacks, America sought to find a reason, a purpose, something that would justify these 19 men's anger against us. We reasoned that they despise our way of life, they despise us, they are the epitome of evil. We wrapped ourselves in our fundamental belief of our own goodness by simply saying these men were "evil" and left it at that.
At the one-year anniversary mark, I'd like to think that we, as a nation, are ready to emerge out of such childish beliefs, and start to examine the reasons. The fact is, many of those who fight in this manner do so because they believe they are powerless--that they have no way except through violence to affect their surroundings. The Palestinian uprising currently plaguing Israel is another such example. The IRA in Northan Ireland is a third. The basic line of reasoning is one we as Americans are all familiar with, having witnessed it on movie screens and television shows all our life: "If they won't listen to me, I'll MAKE them listen."
As the foremost superpower in the world, America has a responsibility that we ignore at our peril. Our decisions affect the planet. Our choices shape mankind's destiny. We decide to attack Iraq, and the entire world reacts to our decisions. If Belgium, or France, or even Britain, made such a gesture, it wouldn't even make front-page news. But if President Bush has an aide that lets something slip in a back room somewhere, and it's on the cover of every news rag in the world, with foreign leaders' reactions to the statement. We could, quite literally, take on the entire world and make a fair fight out of it. This is power, and, as the comic-book hero learned, "With great power comes great responsibility". How could we have forgotten what we learned as children?
Like Kevin Bedell, as a software guy I often wonder if what I'm doing really makes a difference. It's not like I'm saving lives, or inventing medicines, or even growing crops. I sit at a desk, producing tools that 99.9% of the general population will never see, understand, or use. Some of us are fortunate enough to work for environments where their work is visible to the world; in many ways, I envy the developers at Yahoo, Google, and Amazon, because when asked, "What do you do?", they can point to their respective sites by way of answer. Software is ephemeral, abstract, something that most people just don't get.
As a result, it becomes more difficult to justify what I do when something like 9/11 comes up. Coming out of high school, I thought my career path lay in the direction of foreign intelligence analysis, doing what has become so critical today: finding clues amongst the "chatter" of threats to our nation. All I've achieved so far as a geek just pales in comparison, it feels. So I choose to make my difference indirectly, rather than directly: I spend a few more minutes with my kids each day. I write books, in the hope that if I can save you five minutes, you'll spend that time with your family and friends. I write articles to try and explain how I found a problem, in the hopes that it'll save readers time, time we now realize we're all just borrowing anyway. I can't fight fires, I can't decide policy, I can't raise the standard of living for those in poverty, I can't punish the WTC perpetrators directly. Instead, I try to content myself with the idea that I'm helping those who can do such things do their job better, and that I'm influencing part of the next generation, in hopes that they can solve the problems that have so far eluded us.
This anniversary, spend a few more minutes with your kids. Talk to someone of the Islamic faith, and rediscover what we learned the hard way in the 60's: that looks don't matter, that turbans and dark skin don't mean terrorists. Call your parents, your brothers, your sisters, and find out how they're doing. Call your Congressman, and urge them to look into how to solve the problems of the Middle East, instead of backing the most convenient leader. Sell your SUV and buy a Saturn instead, to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. As Americans, we've all heard that "life can never be the way it was". It can be better. But only if we, not "somebody else", make it so.