By John Heinz
September 11, 2013
On September 11th 2001, I sat in English class daydreaming of my past weekend’s heroics in Manhattan, when my world came crashing down to earth as a classmate entered our room to exclaim with clear audible fear not in keeping with his “classclown” reputation: “A Plane just crashed into the Twin Towers!” As that line sunk in, most of us immediately thought of all the people we knew living and working around “The City” as we affectionately had been conditioned to call it.
Growing up where I did, it was impossible to not have ties to The City. Most of my classmates had vivid emotional ties to that place. Our parents worked there, our cousins went to school there. We reveled at the Bronx Zoo and adored the Statue of Liberty. New York City to so many of us represented a pathway to a life of glory. A direct connection to the past and the plight of the millions of souls who had entered it with dreams of creating a better life for themselves and for their families. New York City was a symbol of everything innovative and expansive. Its excesses, humility, edge, and sweet mysteries had enticed us all.
In the next moments, somehow my entire class, my entire school or what felt like it, found its way to the second floor of our library. Huddled around an ancient television that had probably broadcast spacewalks and presidents being sworn in to office, we sobbed, moaned, choked, and felt the air ripped right out of our lungs as we watched with our own eyes, the second plane crashing into and bringing down the second mighty tower. In that instant, my entire future would change. My hopes, dreams, memories, all forever altered to make place for the massive hole in Manhattan, the massive hole in my soul, pouring black smoke and toxicity for as for as far as the eye could see.
In an instant, every place I wanted to be, felt dangerous. Everything I knew about the world seemed wrong. New York City was the finest city I had ever seen. Its expanses, in my eyes, knew no equal and to see it attacked so heinously, could only illicit the explicit fear all acts of terror on that magnitude are designed to achieve. The terrorists did win on September 11th because for a moment, they put us all under their spell. Forcing us to alter our futures and change our dreams. I had dreamt from my earliest childhood of pursuing a life and career in New York City. On September 11th 2001, that dream went up in flames as lives were lost as the direct result of some geopolitical chess game the likes of which the world can still not fully reconcile now many years removed.
What have we accomplished as a country since September 11th? Are we safer?
I would not be able to answer that question. My expertise does not extend beyond endorsements from the mass and alternative media. I do not know what attacks and calamities have been avoided thanks to the Department of Homeland Security or the Patriot Act. I know not the immense sacrifices our proud service men and women have endured in their dedication to our homeland protection. I can barely fathom what it must feel like to be in charge of a nation when such an event like 9/11 takes place regardless of what circumstances brought it into being.
All I know, is that, today in 2013, 12 years removed from September 11th 2001, I could not be prouder of my President Barack Obama. The United States was moving to strike another nation offensively but has backed off that plan in favor of continued pursuit of diplomacy. This is a victory for the American people. This choice on the part of our leaders, honors those lost on September 11th 2001 and also those lost in the wars fought since then and also those lost in Boston Bombing of earlier this year. America need not be a constant aggressor. America need not lead with the power of its military might.
America should define itself in the 21st Century as the preeminent center of peace, justice, and economic growth. We have the potential and know how to transform the world and we should do so, but not with surgical strikes or open ended military campaigns; we should transform the world through diplomacy, humanitarianism, economic development and a commitment to sustainability. We have the universities, laboratories, and companies necessary to transform life on earth in ways offensive strikes never could. On this day, September 11th 2013, I urge all American leaders to be patient and optimistic about the future. I realize the problems we as a nation face are immense but so are our skillsets, determination and drive.
We might not be the greatest generation but there are many among us who carry the wounds of 9/11 with us not as a deficiency in our characters but as a badge of honor guiding our patriotic desires and American aspirations. We do not reject war because we do not understand. We reject war because we have known about it since our earliest days. We have seen what happens in combat. We have witnessed Wounded Warriors returning to the homeland and we want to find a new way.
The military will always have a place in America. Service should be the responsibility of every American. That service need not be offensively grounded however. With a nation as large as ours and with the problems currently facing our global community, couldn’t we better direct our talented young people then to send them off to die as just another move in a game of chess? Aren’t their lives worth more than that?
Aren’t the lessons of 9/11 fresh enough to drive not just fear but love and compassion? Can’t we be different? Can’t we try what seems nearly impossible in the hope that we will discover new depths to our ability to grow and transform as a nation?
I remember September 11th 2001 and I will NEVER forget.