9/11’s 10th anniversary should have been a good reminder

Tom WestI probably spent more time watching the activities commemorating the 9/11 attacks than was mentally healthy.

The electronic media does its utmost to portray everybody as a victim in some way. I’ve never felt that I was a victim of 9/11. No, the victims were the people who died, the loved ones who knew or worked with them and the emergency personnel injured trying to find or save them.

As I watched the ceremonies in New York, inevitably, my memories flooded back to that fateful day. I was working in Duluth, and we were close to deadline. Our little paper went to press at 12 noon.

When the first plane hit, like most  Americans, we assumed it was pilot error, the kind of tragedy that we hear about in the news virtually every day. Nobody’s fault. It was just one of those things that happens when you have 8 billion people guiding vehicles that let us travel faster than our legs can carry us.

Then the second plane hit, and it was immediately clear that this was no mistake, but an attack. We immediately assigned a reporter to go to the Duluth Airport to get local reaction, and I went over to the federal building, a few blocks away to see what was happening there. Both were already in the process of shutting down for the day, and the airport remained closed for more than a week.

We put together a story, made our deadline. I was scheduled that day to go to  a golf outing with a bunch of grocery store vendors in Deer River. Because of the attacks, I got a late start, only played nine holes and then ate dinner. It was surreal; nobody talked about the event that was going to affect us all. But then, none of us had seen a TV.

I didn’t grasp the full impact of what happened until I walked into my house at 11 p.m. My wife was sitting there watching the TV, and Leno and Letterman weren’t on. I remember standing there, not even bothering to sit down for about 15 minutes, as the replays showed over and over again the horrors of the day.

The next day, we learned that the price of gasoline in Duluth shot up $1 or so per gallon, as frightened motorists began hoarding gas. People denounced the profiteers, but the hoarding showed just how scared we all were.

The day after that, a “pro-American” rally was held next to the federal building in Duluth, and I went. It felt kind of weird. The people who constantly carp and complain about this country get most of the news coverage when it comes to politics. However, hundreds of people showed up that day who wouldn’t be caught dead exhibiting any other kind of patriotism.

The following Sunday, my wife and I went down to the Lakewalk on Lake Superior and sat on a bench. An armed soldier paced in front of us, apparently concerned about an attack coming from the lake. Today, now that we know who committed this act of war and how big the threat was, that seems ridiculous. But at that time, no one knew.

Shortly after, somebody mailed anthrax to the media and several politicians. I told our receptionist, when she opened the mail, if any powder fell out, to evacuate the building.

Then, a sniper started shooting innocent people in the Washington, D.C., area while they were doing mundane things like pumping gas.It was as if our whole society was starting to unravel.

In Duluth, I-35 has tunnels that I regularly took to work. For weeks afterward, I took alternative routes, wondering if someone would blow them up.

Seven weeks after 9/11, I flew alone to Ohio for my brother’s retirement party. On my way home on a Sunday afternoon, I changed planes in Chicago. In the airport, even though I had gotten off one plane only to get onto another, when it came time to board the connecting flight, I was wanded. I was also directed to take off my shoes, and that was before the “shoe bomber” made it necessary for the entire western world to walk unshod through security. I’m sure that I was singled out because I was flying alone.

Many people then and even today refer to 9/11 as a “tragedy.” I never did. To me, 9/11 was a monstrous crime against humanity, a despicable act of evil.

A tragedy is like the end of “Cool Hand Luke” when Paul Newman says, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That suggests that it was all just one big misunderstanding.

Contrary to that, the message of 9/11 was incredibly clear: Somebody hated us Americans so much that they would stop at nothing to try to kill us, all of us, even noncombatants just going to work in the morning.

The only way to respond to that is in self-defense, and that is what we tried to do. Say what you will about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the reason we haven’t suffered another attack since is because of the incredible sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of American volunteers, many of whom went into harm’s way.

We had a decision: Either stand up to the bullies or submit to their slavery. We forget at our own peril that after 9/11 we chose correctly. The 10th peaceful anniversary should have reminded us of that.

    Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. He can be reached at (320) 352-6569 or at tom.west@ecm-inc.com.

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