Reflection on the days after 9/11
In a previous commentary, I reflected on the actual 9/11 attack and the war in Afghanistan the ensued. But the days immediately following 9/11 had special meaning that is worth remembering.
Living in downtown Chicago gave my family, my staff and friends a unique perspective. Initially, it was because we felt that we could have been a target on 9/11 – and in the days following. The Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world at the time – making it a potentially prime symbolic target.
President Bush had already given his speech that we could rest assured that the evil forces who committed this human atrocity would be found and punished … annihilated. We not only believed that but were sure it would be accomplished swiftly and effectively. There was no sense of pessimism. The fact that did not happen makes the tragedy of 9/11 that much worse.
In the days following the attack, news reports questioned how the American people would react. Would we go about our normal business, or would we hunker down in fear? That was particularly focused on those of us who lived and worked in the great metropolitan centers – the most likely targets for future attacks. Would we be terrorized?
But hope and optimism won the day over fear. There was a great unity among we the people. We not only were going to get those bastards, but we would not cower in fear – the very thing terrorist want most. To terrorize.
On 9/11, the streets of downtown were empty within hours of the attack. That night there were no planes in the sky. Michigan Avenue – the street below our apartment – was empty and eerily silent.
The next morning and in the days that followed, the sights and sounds returned. But there was a difference – a very noticeable difference.
When my family and I joined the throngs on the main streets of downtown Chicago, we found the sidewalks more crowded than ever. People were especially cordial – nodding and saying “hi” to folks passing by. The crowded was composed of every age and ethnic group – openly displaying unity and harmony. It included white folks, black, Hispanic, Asian and even Muslims wearing symbolic clothing. Many said they were out and about to show the terrorist that they did not break the American spirit. We would NOT cower in fear.
To me, it was a public display of American unity and patriotism unlike anything since the end of World War II. Flags were popping up everywhere – on high-rise buildings, in store windows, in apartment and office windows, on lapels, on cars and oversized flags on trucks. People across the nation were hanging the American flag as expressions of defiance and optimism. It was a Fourth of July on steroids.
Remarkably, it was literally a celebration in response to a tragedy. It ironically seemed that the very horror of the attack brought about an exuberant display of American resolve and patriotism. Yes, American took a hit, but there was almost universal optimism that we would not only survive, but that the attack on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania would be the death knell of international terrorism. Private conversations that dealt with the attack would be concluded with an affirmative believe that “we are going to make them pay.” There was a certainty of that.
No one in those days imagined that the campaign against those terrorists would go on for two decades – and in the end, America would lose, and the terrorist would prevail.
As we solemnly remembered 9/11/2001, those who attacked America were celebrating the success of that attack in the streets of Kabul – literally celebrating the killing of 2,977 innocent people in three locations — AND their success in defeating America after 20 years of humiliating war. If we could have seen the future in those days following the attack, I doubt we would have been confident in America. We would not have been so optimistic … so unified … so patriotic. That feeling slowly ebbed away over the next two decades of incompetent American political and military leadership. But for a moment in time, it was a wonderful feeling.
So, there ‘tis.