Every once in awhile I find myself thinking of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, specifically towards the end of the piece. I often then get a sort of flashback, a brief image in my mind of a plane flying into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
The natural tendency on anniversaries is to reflect on the time that has passed since the original event. This is particularly the case when a person was alive to be able to have witnessed or to have known about the event when it actually happened. Just as the people of my parent’s generation are all, without fail, able to recount where they were when they found out that Kennedy was assassinated, so too will we all be able to tell future generations where we were when the World Trade Center fell.
The last year has brought about some of the most tremendous changes in my life, more so than any other year has. In the course of a year I went from being a non-observant practically atheist with a Jewish background to being a person striving to be fully observant. One would surely not be able to fathom this if one were to have met me shortly after the tragic event, whereupon I delved into objectivist philosophy in an attempt to figure out how such a terrible thing could happen. Was there any rational way to explain what was going on, why we had just suddenly been attacked seemingly out of nowhere? Who were these fiends who wished such harm upon the American people, what was their intent – basically, why us?
A second question must be asked: How are the people of America any different from how we were a year ago, prior to the attacks? First and foremost, it should be noted that the attitude we held as Americans that we were invulnerable from attacks such as the ones that face the Israeli people on a regular basis – this is largely if not wholly gone. A year ago few people would have thought that it would be possible that a group of terrorists would attack us – not with bombs of their own construction, but with our own airplanes, built for the transportation of people. There is a bit more tension in getting on the subway – at least I felt it sometimes when going to work and facing a tightly packed car. What kind of damage could a single suicide bomber do in a sardine-like subway car? Or worse, if some deranged terrorist were to strike the subway in the manner of the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways in 1995? It would be devastating, of course.
The changes have not all been strictly in terms of how we view terrorists and our sense of national security. Many people who would have never thought to call themselves “patriots” now wear the word like a badge. The men and women who went in to rescue people in the towers as they burned, and the people who rushed forward to bring down the fourth plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania – they are often described as patriotic, albeit that might not have been their intention. I never saw as many American flags being displayed as I did in the months following the attack. One questions the intent of the merchants peddling bumper stickers, t-shirts, posters, etc. merely blocks away from where the planes struck – most certainly, the counterfeit Fire Department and Police Department and shirts that were being sold with no money going to the people being represented on said merchandise.
First Amendment under attack?
This should not be taken to mean that I’m not proud to be an American citizen – I do strongly believe that America is, indeed, an amazing country, with great opportunities available to those who seek them. It does seem a bit scary and even Orwellian, though, when we are told by our Attorney General that criticizing the anti-terror plans of the government is akin to aiding terrorists. It is rather frightening when a poll reveals that forty-nine percent of those participating (1000 people) in a particular poll felt that the first amendment was possibly an obstacle in the war on terrorism. That the government should be able to monitor religious groups – which, of course, completely defeats the idea of freedom of religion.
If we allow our rights to be taken away in the name of security, it will be our lack of rights that will soon enough be the biggest problem. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "They that can give up Essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." While it is of the utmost importance to take action to protect a country from those who wish to harm it, it should not come at the cost of each citizen’s "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" as it is written in the United States Declaration of Independence, penned over 225 years ago but still quite politically relevant today.
Necessary Words of Thanks
In an article remembering the American Tragedy that was the attack on the World Trade Center, it is necessary to pay tribute to those who risked life and limb in order to try to save the people in the buildings. If not for the bravery of many men and women, possibly thousands more could have perished as a result of the attack. These were the people in the Fire Department, the Police Department, and countless volunteer organizations who saw the burning building, the chaos, the possibility that it could all collapse at any split second of time and despite this, went rushing into the building to save as many people as they possibly could.
There are thousands more to thank. One can barely imagine where to start such gratitude. There were immediately hundreds of web sites (now numbering in the dozens of thousands – not that I have gone to each one to check, of course) offering support and words of consolation to those suffering. A few large companies put up links to donate money to the Red Cross – one going to the Amazon Dot Com donation site could see the amount that had been donated rising by hundreds every second, thousands per minute. I believe that it had raised about five million dollars within a week or two. (As an aside, there is always a need for blood – people are in constant need of transfusions and there is often a shortage – I encourage all who can to donate on a semi-regular basis if possible.) There are many other people – who gave of their time, energy, and money – to help out in whatever ways they could. To them, I offer my thanks.
When I mentioned on June sixth to my coworkers that it was in fact June sixth, they were puzzled and had no idea that it was, in fact, D-day. Nor did they have any knowledge of Bastille day a month later. We should take some time each year and make sure that such a terrible thing does not come to happen to this great American tragedy – of which we should never forget.