It will be 10 months ago tomorrow that the world changed. Ten months since 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes and created chaos in this land we call home. Ten months since several thousand innocents were murdered as they worked in twin office towers in lower Manhattan. Ten months since scores more were killed in a squat fortress of war situated on the Potomac and dozens more were lost forever in a quiet Pennsylvanian field. Ten months since several hundred men and women proved that this truly is the home of the brave, many giving their lives in the process.
We mourn them still.
Although the cleanup at Ground Zero in New York City is completed — Governor George Pataki announced this past Fourth of July that no commercial developments would ever be built on the one-acre “footprints” of the fallen World Trade Center towers — and although rebuilding at the Pentagon is well underway, the wounds of this shell-shocked nation have yet to heal, and may never completely heal within our lifetimes.
We are told by our nation’s leaders to remain vigilant and watchful, but at the same time to try to get back to normal and not allow the threats and vague warnings to get in the way of our celebrations (like the 226th anniversary of our nation/s birth last Thursday).
Maybe it’s just me, but the sparkling multi-hued fireworks last week didn’t seem as sweet as in years past. Likewise, the exquisitely choreographed explosions on the movie screens this summer don/t seem as cool as they used to. Even the comedians trying to make sense and fun of this crazy new world don/t seem as funny, their words edged with an unrelenting sadness and the fear of an unknowable future.
We have been told to expect more attacks, worse attacks involving biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Our leaders tell us that it is inevitable that suicide bombers, like the ones plaguing the Middle East, will come to the United States. There are thousands of al Queda operatives still on the loose, they say, and other terrorist organizations may be out to get us as well.
Congress is currently discussing plans for immunizing emergency workers with the small pox vaccine/ just in case. Meanwhile, President Bush/s plan for a Department of Homeland Security, its sole purpose to protect the citizens of the United States from those who wish us harm, is edging closer to becoming a reality. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced from Russia last month that the United States has apprehended a suspect who was hell-bent on wreaking havoc with a /dirty bomb/ / traditional explosives laced with radioactive material / in one of our nation/s cities (a story that turned out to be hopelessly overblown).
For every Richard Reid (the shoe-bomb wielding suspect who allegedly tried to blow up a trans-continental airliner) taken into custody, we wonder if there is another who has gotten though, who is even now operating under the radar and making plans for some future attack on America, unknown to our intelligence agencies like the 19 individuals who started it all. A shooting that kills three at an airline counter at LAX on July 4 suddenly takes on a whole new importance, could this be another volley in the war that has been declared on the United States? Or is it, as the authorities say, just the action of one man, a lone nut?
We have given up some of our privacy, as citizens must during a time of war, but I wonder if we must give up more as our leaders say we might need to. Already this summer I have been frisked twice at airports (once in Berlin and once in Portland, Ore.), though my bags have not been checked and I have never been asked to take off my shoes. This was a minor inconvenience and I went along without question, but I wonder if I would baulk if they asked for a fingerprint or a retinal scan. How much is increased security worth when measured against lost privacy?
I wonder about the hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. They are not prisoners of war, and exist outside of the Geneva Convention and Constitutional protections. They are being interrogated, but not investigated and certainly not charged. Hundreds more are being held within the United States on various infractions, but have yet to be charged with a crime as well. Is this right? Is this fair? I honestly don’t know.
Our leaders say we are at war and such measures are necessary during wartime. But in a war without a clear enemy or objective, how can we know when we have won? It has been 10 months since the world changed, but I wonder still, how many months will it take for it to change back?
-Ben Koerselman is editor in chief of the Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org