September 11 has come ‘round again, as it always does, but for me, at least, it has lost its teeth. While I was in Washington, D.C on that day, and while I was scared (and stayed that way for a long time), I no longer am. Whether it’s because of time or media saturation or both, September 11 has become an ordinary day for me again.
In this, it reminds me of “the day after.” Not the TV movie itself, but of the scary time—the early 1980’s—when it seemed like the U.S. and the Soviet Union were locked into a nuclear suicide pact that would drag the rest of the world down, too. Back then, at least to teenage me and my friends and probably a lot of other people, it seemed a question of “when” and not “if,” and whether by accident (99 Red Balloons, anyone?) or on purpose (“We begin bombing in five minutes”).
Right after 9/11, the adult me and my friends and a lot of other people thought that it was a question of “when” and not “if” the next big terrorist attack would come. And at first, the October 2001 anthrax attacks seemed to validate that thinking. But just as “the day after” never came in the Eighties, the next big Al-Qaeda attack never came, either. It seems, as Sting hoped, that the Russians loved their children, too. As for Al-Qaeda, they were too busy running for their lives from the American military response to pull off “the next one.” That, and our spies and law enforcement got better at sniffing out their plans. That, and they apparently didn’t have the wherewithal to pull off something like that again. Maybe they just got lucky that day.
The threat of nuclear war has not gone away: Russia still has thousands of nuclear weapons, as do we, and whether by accident or on purpose, we could all be wiped out tomorrow. Likewise, al-Qaeda is still out there and could strike here again. The difference is that most of us, for whatever reasons, aren’t afraid anymore. Not like we used to be. And our children—I was too young to have them in the Eighties, and they were too young to understand in 2001—won’t know what that fear was like.
Hopefully, they never will.