They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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9/11 Ten Years Out

This past week and this weekend is filled with 9/11 remembrances. Some concentrate on the technical details. The failures or naivete of security. The extraordinary efforts by first responders. The recovery. The mess. The responses. The wars fought since that fateful day.

People say that everything's changed -- and to some extent that's true. But life also goes on and so life was going to change from 2001 to 2011 anyway.

I've talked here before about 9/11. This isn't about those stories. Instead I want to talk about change.

If you'd had enough 9/11 I won't mind if you go. I hope what follows is coherent.


On September 11th 2001, I'd just turned 43. Google was still fairly new -- Wikipedia had been up and running for nine months. Homeland Security had a vaguely fascist or Soviet feel to it and would never be the name for a U.S. department. In 2001, the Prius was first marketed beyond Japan -- you might not have known anyone who owned one or soon would. The last GM EV1 had been produced two years before and in two years they would all disappear. So much for electric cars or worrying about fuel.

We weren't expecting much beyond the new school year, the college and NFL seasons. The baseball playoffs. We just weren't thinking about what was going to happen. Building implosions were complicated works of demolition, not in the scope of terrorist attacks -- to be fair, I don't think Osama bin Laden expected both towers to fall. And I didn't even know there'd just been a big renovation of the Pentagon -- closest I'd ever been to the Pentagon was the underground Metro stop, though I guess my father was a secretary there at one point of WWII.

Living In The Future

As point of reference, I didn't get onto Gmail until June 2005. Facebook in November 2008. I got my first Windows XP machine in March 2005 -- and I'm still using it today. Mac users? There was no OS X. No iPhone either. No iPods either, not for another two months. Much of the tech we use every day wasn't in that form in 2001.

Undoing The Cobwebs

Because I learned of 9/11 during my long comute to/from WMU in Kalamazoo, for months afterward I had to have the news on the radio during the drive. No more CDs or Books On Tape. What if something happened?

I didn't write for a while.

And yet... a week after 9/11 a faculty piano recital was held on the campus of GVSU. The professor, a Van Cliburn medalist, was born in Israel. He felt it important for the recital to go on -- but he ditched the virtuoso program and instead gave us an hour of emotion and relief. Yes, life would go on.

Not quite a year later I started sending my stories out. Hiding from harsh reality? Realization life is short? I've talked to a lot of writers -- you can over analyze things and read too much into it. Perhaps it was just time.

What Makes This Different?

The second hit on the WTC happened live on TV and radio. The shutdown of the skies was nationwide. There is so much video.

What many forget is that Tuesday 11 September 2001 was a primary election day in NYC. And yet democracy did not fall that day. (Though there are forces trumpeting patriotism while threatening democracy today.)

We did not make 9/11 a holiday. Thank goodness. Imagine 9/11 Sales -- Don't Let The Terrorists Win! We Have Special Deals On Mattresses, Big Screen TVs And Many Chinese Made Products! -- and 9/11 "celebrated" on whatever Monday is convenient.

Finally, I think what made the difference on that day was United flight 93 -- Americans did not wait for someone to help them. They stopped the last plane themselves. This is what instant communications did.

Indeed, for those worried about overblown and intrusive hype, this may be the last big 9/11 commemoration. Ten years fits our historical sensibilities. The main memorials in New York, Washington and Shanksville have been dedicated. Rebuilding around the WTC site is happening. And some are already exhausted by the endless media coverage.

What Makes A National Event?

What's my point? Nick Mamatas wrote today that, "If you weren't local to the events ten years ago, or didn't have loved ones close to the events, I have to say that I really don't give a shit about your memories."

Of course that fails to realize the scope of the events. We were all affected. While I did not lose anyone directly in my circle, I know people who did and I know people there at the time. I am not about to compare my reactions to those in the direct path. Nor am I going to ignore it either.

Who "should" mourn 9/11? Who should remember? In terms of the entire population of the US, only a relatively few families were directly hurt that day -- and they live with it all the time. It's rather disingenuous to claim that now they have closure after this weekend's dedication. Few of us as a nation serve. The response to 9/11 has not been the national sacrifice of a WWII. And yet it was and still is a national event.

The fascination with 9/11 outside those directly affected isn't just the macabre, the real-life blockbuster movie images, the victims, the heroes. Or even the political, military and economic responses.

The Empire State Building survived being hit by a B-25 bomber in 1945. The WTC was designed to survive being hit by a 707. But by the time they were built, the airlines were flying the 747 and later the large fuel capacity 767 and 757 planes used by the hijackers. Design versus hubris? Are there things that my engineering students can learn here?

I've been avoiding the discussion of the Ground Zero memorial and rebuilding until something tangible was happening. Recently we started catching episodes of TDC's Rising : Rebuilding Ground Zero, which given that I grew up watching the original towers being built thirty miles south of us, has been a really interesting technological discussion.

This piece is already so long I shan't go into the rights and wrongs of the changes in security and law enforcement. Certainly on that morning there was a complacency -- there hadn't been a US hijacking in years.

So my point is that change happened. It was going to anyway. Some of the changes have nothing to do with 9/11 -- and some shouldn't have anything to do with 9/11 but somehow do.

The world has changed. For good, for ill, for reasons that have nothing to do with 9/11.

Tomorrow it will be September 12th. And life will go on. If we're smart.

Dr. Phil
Tags: 9/11, history, technology, united states

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