By Matt Southworth on 09/11/2011 @ 03:45 PM
As I write, I’m watching coverage of September 11, 2001 as it happened 10 years ago. I didn’t expect to see actual footage of the 2001 attacks today. Flipping the television between the memorial services of 2011 and the day of the attacks on 2001 evokes both the emotional state of that day and somber reflection looking backward.
I was a senior in high school on 9/11/2001. My first two period classes were study halls, which I used as a workout period. This particular Tuesday, I slept in later than usual. When I got to the high school gym, I was greeted by my football coach Mr. Mader. “There are jets circling the Pentagon” he shouted to me. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just followed him to a TV set up in one of the gymnasium classrooms. As I listened to newscasters try to piece together the events of that morning, I witnessed the second plane fly into the World Trade Center building in New York City.
At that time, the mood changed. Everything changed.
In the weeks that followed, I visited the Marines Corps and Army recruitment centers before settling on joining the Army. Motivated in part by the attacks on 9/11 and my own patriotism (I covered my pickup truck in American flags and sewed them on gym bags and jackets after the attack) and by the benefits and opportunities I thought the military would afford me, I joined. I learned a lot during my time in the Army, which included a tour of duty in Iraq. I’m proud that I served my country, but I’m not proud of some of the things I did. We can only learn from our pasts.
What happened on that hollowed day in September 2001 has, like it has for so many others in my generation, shaped my life. That day now shapes my work; it shapes me. After a decade of war in response to the over 3,000 lost on 9/11, many more—hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions—have been killed. I do not personally feel all of this violence, some of which I directly participated in, has been redemptive. Violence begets violence. I believe a decade of bad policies such as endless war, detention without charge, torture and spying—even on Americans—have compromised our integrity and sent our moral compass astray.
I recently returned from Afghanistan, where the scars of the last decade are evident everywhere. Peace has, to some, become a distant idea with little meaning. It is true that Afghans have known decades of war. However, with a life expectancy of 45 years old and a population almost entirely under 35 years old, few even know about American's 9/11. Many Afghans do not realize their current condition is largely a result of the U.S. response to 19 men-most of whom were from Saudi Arabia and none of whom were from Afghanistan-flying planes into buildings 10 years ago. This is a wildly insane, but true, proposition.
I hope on this somber anniversary, we’ll all take the time to look back on the last decade for what it really has been: tragic for the world. I hope we’ll reflect and conclude that, in the end, we can do better. The future of the world depends on it.