The below has been percolating in my head for two and a half years now. It’s not unique. It’s not profound. But it’s mine.
I remember everything.
My high school had (and still has, as far as I know) a rotating class schedule. On the morning of September 11, my first class was a single period of OAC Economics. On such days, Mr. Remigio wouldn’t bother teaching a lesson, but instead direct the class to pick stocks for an ongoing portfolio exercise. At least, that was the claim; it became, to no one’s surprise, about five minutes of scanning the Business section, and forty-five of playing cards, last-minute studying, writing, and anything else typical of teenage kibitzing. About halfway through the class, someone who’d been out in the hall and talking to friends with a radio mentioned some vaguely-defined newsworthy event CNN was covering. Intrigued, I returned to my fantasy portfolio, and bought a huge block of AOL Time Warner – in retrospect, a bad decision. Or it would have been, if real money had been involved.
Economics ended, and I went off to my next class, a double period of Visual Art. I remember an odd buzz of conversation in the halls as I made my way between wings; something about a plane crash.
I arrived, as usual, first among the small class. OAC Art was populated mainly by those who actually intended to make some sort of career with their creative skills, and I hadn’t yet determined that mine probably weren’t spectacular enough to rise above professional mediocrity. Mr. Young had rolled out the room’s TV cart, and was attempting to pick up a signal; however, despite the art room being on the second floor, in a building atop a small hill, with huge picture windows facing local transmission towers in the Gatineau Hills, he was having no luck. I scrounged a roll of copper wire last used for making armatures in plaster sculptures, wrapped it around the aluminum pole used for opening the clerestory windows, and rigged up a makeshift whip antenna. On touching the copper lead to the old TV’s coaxial plug, we instantly had a crystal-clear signal from CJOH. By this point, the rest of the class had arrived, and were anxiously waiting for the antenna to be connected. Rumours travel fast in any institution, not least a high school, and everyone looked worried and nervous.
I was the last one there to see the screen, preoccupied for another moment behind the TV, taping the wire in place. I remember seeing the looks of horror on the others’ faces, before I saw the reason why. And I remember the first time I saw Flight 11 go down. It was 10:01.
We sat transfixed. Shots of every angle possible played over and over again. The local anchors occasionally interjected with stunned mumblings, but for the most part they were content to switch off to the major network feeds. I saw the flames, the smoke, the death; and I saw Palestinians goddamn fucking dancing in the streets
You know, I was trying to be reasonably impartial, to that point, on the whole Middle East thing. Both Israel and Palestine have historical claims to the land. I like to think I'm a reasonable person, who can see both sides of an issue. But then one side goes and does something like cheering for massive acts of terrorism. I will never
support a state for these barbaric troglodytes, who laugh and sing and hand out candy at the murder of innocents; on that day, I wouldn’t have minded if Israel had napalmed the lot of them. I've returned to being far more reasonable since, but I'm still inclined to give Israel a pretty free hand in doing whatever they need to in order to prevent terrorism. Of everything about 9/11 that still makes me absolutely furious, the response of the Arab world is pretty damn high up on the list.
Eager for more detailed information, I tried to get something out of CNN, Fox News, MSNBC et al’s websites from the old iMac in the back corner of the room. Of course, network traffic was choked dead.
Lunch was quiet. I remember what I said to my friends, sitting on the stairwell landing outside the Math wing as we usually did. It was seared (Bite me, Lurch
) in my mind moments after sitting down at that cold plastic desk in room 220 to witness the evil for which Islamofascism is solely responsible:
“This is it. This is our Pearl Harbor. This is what will define our entire generation.”
Obvious, sure. But at the time, it seemed profound. We were supposed to be living at the End of History. This was supposed to be a time of post-modern internal struggle, for a kinder and gentler great civilization. We were supposed to get the TNG future, not the B5 one. It now seems a million years ago that vapid pop-anarcho-nihilism like Fight Club
lamented “We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression.”
But that’s not what happened. I remember even at on that lunch period, some tried to dismiss the day’s importance. One of the group made an incredibly tasteless joke, and we all castigated him for it. Strangely enough, I don’t even remember what the joke was, now – it just made me think of an old two-page piece from Mad
Magazine from the early 90s, predicting humourous idiocies of The Future – “In the future, no more than fifteen minutes will pass between a major tragedy and the first tasteless joke about it.” Accompanied, coincidentally, by a tiny cartoon of a plane crashing into a building, and one onlooker attempting to ask another if he’d “heard the one about the plane crashing into the building” yet.
Prescience is a funny thing, you know? It pops up in the most unlikely of places.
I had co-op in the afternoons that term. It was still early in the term, however, and placements hadn’t yet been made; the first few weeks were instead meant for orientation, career advice, and the like. I didn’t even interview for the position in an MP’s office I’d continue to hold in a different capacity until this June, until mid-September, if I remember correctly.
During lunch period, there’d been a general staff meeting. All teachers had been told to stop allowing students to watch TV or listen to the radio; in aid of what, I’m not sure, as everyone knew by then. It was a long afternoon, trying to concentrate on anything
but the Now.
When I got home, CNN was hyperventilating over unexplained explosions in Kabul, and there was speculation a surprise US strike had already been mounted – until an hour later, when they realized that it was normal riots and civil unrest, for Afghanistan. I don’t remember much more after that. I was glued to the TV all night, and for most of the next month, just like everyone else. But I remember being angry. I remember being incredibly thankful that Al Gore wasn’t president. And I remember how George W. Bush, as CNN plugged in their promos for the next two years, found his voice in the flames. That 8:30 address on the night of September 11, 2001 was magnificent. But I was still angry. I was so angry I was tempted to watch Titus Andronicus
after Bush's address, for the sake of righteous rage and revenge.
September 11 changed everything. Three years on, people seem to be forgetting that. Who didn’t get a terrible, sick, sinking feeling a few months later, on November 12?
It seemed all too possible another attack could happen at any second.
On a more personal level, it changed me. For most of my politically-aware life, I’ve leaned right – but 9/11 pushed me a lot further right. I liked Liddy Dole in the 2000 GOP Primaries. I rooted for Bush in 2000, but only half-heartedly, and mainly because he annoyed all the right people. Then he became magnificent. Not the best wartime president ever, true – but Lincoln and FDR raised the bar so high, I don’t know that anyone could match them now. He is the leader John Kerry could never be, and I’d follow him to hell and back.
I wanted to be an animator, for a long time. I enjoy animation, cartooning, graphic design, and the like; I’m still an obsessive geek about it. With more practice, I probably could have achieved something more than the aforementioned professional mediocrity. But after 9/11, it seemed petty; a poor use of my skills. I’m not particularly athletic. I’d make a terrible soldier or police officer. But I can read, and analyze, and argue. I can research and evaluate. I can make an impassioned defense of the right, the just, and the good. More importantly, I can do these things quite a bit better than I can draw.
Now, my goal is to become a lawyer, a prosecuting attorney; I doubt my hands on a rifle would help the current war one way or the other, but I can fight evil in my own way. I want to help punish those who would, given the chance, destroy civilization as we know it - petty criminals as much as international terrorists. I suppose that’s a bit maudlin and silly; I don’t care. There are worse things in life than being serious and resolute.
I’m still angry. Every person who claims to stand with civilization rather than theocratic barbarism should still be angry. Just being who I am and believing what I do, I count for at least four or five of the reasons al-Qaeda and their ilk use to justify mass murder. I don’t plan to favour any action that would give them a better shot at me or anyone else, now or ever. There can be no compromise with terror, no live-and-let-live. I don’t care who
that policy might make feel uncomfortable.
It has now been three years since war was declared upon the entire world – but predominantly the United States of America – by the enemies of freedom and civilization.
Never forget. Never forgive.