It's been six months since the crystal-clear morning that I stood on the roof of my office building with my co-workers, watching the smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers, blowing to Brooklyn. It's been six months since the towers fell, six months since the skies were cleared of all traffic except fighter jets, six months since everyone in Manhattan walked home numb in the middle of the day. In many ways, it feels much longer than that.
The instinct of looking up at the sky every time a plane flies overhead is wearing off. The smell of the fires hasn't blown into my neighborhood for quite some time. Office buildings are no longer being evacuated on a daily basis, nor are entire subway lines being shut down regularly due to bomb scares. It took us a while to learn that sirens are not necessarily the signal of another attack. Several months ago, I awoke in the middle of the night to my building shaking. I'd never felt anything like that before, and was sure that we were again under attack. We weren't; it was a Manhattan rarity: an earthquake.
As the sting of the attacks subsides, so do the memories of what life was like right after September 11th. At one time, every streetside surface in Manhattan was a billboard for fliers showing the faces of the missing. The only ones I see now surround the perimeter of Ground Zero and hang on small memorial displays in Grand Central and Penn Station. The immediacy of the attacks is gone, and the sense of comfort and complacency that characterized the pre-September 11th world seems to want to work its way back into our lives.
That's why I believe that 9|11, the documentary shown Sunday night on CBS, serves a very important purpose. It forces us to reconnect with the horrors of September 11th by showing us once again the full scale of the destruction that was wrought on so many lives, on our city, and on our nation. We'll need to remember this horror over the coming months, as we swat away the criticisms of our weak-kneed European allies and the "human rights" groups that never seem to complain about al Qaeda's disregard for the Geneva Convention. We'll need to remember this horror as we bury more of our soldiers and endure different types of attacks, like the Daniel Pearl execution.Slack to our Enemies
If I were to have one criticism of the 9|11 documentary, it would be that it hid some of the graphic truths of September 11th. I don't mean to imply that I have a morbid fascination with the death that occurred on that day; I don't, I find it revolting. But I also believe that by refusing to ingest every ounce of the horror of September 11th, we are giving too much slack to our enemies. Sure, it is always easier to turn our heads away from the full extent of the evils in the world, but the more we ignore, the faster our wills will waver, leading us to let up in our quest for the full defeat our enemies.
Our nation has a history of quick fixes for terrorism, and like most quick fixes, they not only didn't work, but they led to even greater long-term damage. In the past, we've accepted these quick fixes because we never got the full story about the attacks against us. We were never forced to witness the death and destruction brought by those attacks, because they weren't captured on video and repeated for days by every imaginable media outlet.
When you remember the major al Qaeda attacks of the 1990s, what thoughts come to mind? The first World Trade Center attack conjures up images of soot-covered people staggering out of a building on a snowy day. The USS Cole was a hole in the side of a boat. Khobar Towers, Kenya, Tanzania...just names to most people. We were never forced to confront these attacks because they weren't being broadcast live to the nation. But to some families, these attack were just as painful as September 11th.
Because we didn't witness the destruction of those attacks, we were content to let our political leaders take the easy way out. We were satisfied with busting up the cell but ignoring the network. We were happy enough to have a couple of missiles lobbed at a shack, because then we could wash our hands of it and get back to watching Friends and the bull market. Our president spent his time attending to the illusion of poll numbers and gave no thought to the reality of the dangers surrounding us. Now we can see the 1990s for what it really was: a shallow time led by a shallow man. Shame on us for allowing this to happen.No More Turning Away
Turning away from horror is always easier than facing up to it. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is the bliss of a drug that eventually wears off and leads to the hangover of a decayed reality. On September 11th, the bliss of the 1990s wore off entirely, and we were forced once again to face reality, a reality shaped by our refusal to face problems when they arose.
I worry that if the World Trade Center attack had not been broadcast, our reaction to it would have been much less vigorous. That's why I think it is our duty to see as much as we can of the catastrophe that was inflicted upon us. We need to face up to the depths of the evil in the hearts of the enemy we're fighting. If we don't, from what source will we draw the strength to maintain our resolve when the war gets long or the news gets boring?
I think it was a grave mistake and a lost opportunity to censor the video of what the bastards did to Daniel Pearl. Of course, I feel for his family, and I can certainly understand not wanting to subject them or the public to a display of his severed head being held up in triumph. But the anger we feel when we see scenes like that will provide the fire we'll need to respond to evil in the only sensible way, which is to destroy it entirely.
History shows the perils of ignoring opportunities to crush evil of this magnitude. It may buy time, but always at the expense of additional death and destruction. Eventually, the effort must always be undertaken to stop evil. We mustn't allow our short-term-memory culture to trick us into thinking we're out of danger simply because the fear has worn off. Hopefully, there will be more projects like CBS's 9|11 documentary to remind us of exactly what kind of enemy we're facing.