I’m not the most observant person when it comes to my wife’s attire. She will tell you so.
But I can think of three times, other than our wedding, when I distinctly remember what Betty Gail was wearing: the day I met her, the day we had our first date, and the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
I have been wondering, as this nation commemorates the 20th anniversary of that terrible day, why that’s so. Of all the pretty tops my wife has worn, what is it about that royal blue one that I can recall so distinctly as we sat at our kitchen table over lunch and tried to make sense of what had happened just a few hours earlier.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, had started off like most for me at that stage in my life. I had dropped off one of our children at school and turned my car toward work while listening to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on the radio. The announcer broke in with a bulletin that a plane had just crashed into a New York skyscraper.
In my mind, I pictured a small, single-engine aircraft that had tragically veered off course — pilot error or incapacitation, I thought. Less than 17 minutes later, when a second aircraft did the same thing at the accompanying Twin Tower, I and the rest of the world knew how wrong I was.
At that time, the Commonwealth was still an afternoon paper, so while it was difficult to tear ourselves from the devastation unfolding before everyone’s eyes on live television, we had a newspaper to get out that morning. I’m sure we missed deadline that day.
Besides the national coverage coming via The Associated Press, Beth Stevens, then our lifestyles editor and now the Chamber of Commerce executive director, pitched in with a local reaction story to the morning’s developments, with comments from more than a dozen people expressing their shock and disbelief. There was also a notice that Greenwood’s churches were being urged to open their doors for prayer.
For the next 16 straight issues of the newspaper, the terrorist attacks and their aftermath, including the build-up toward the invasion of Afghanistan, was the lead story on page 1. It wasn’t until Greenwood dedicated a brand new middle school that 9/11 news was bumped to a secondary spot.
Following the attacks, you felt emotionally paralyzed at first, and then a need to connect with family, friends and fellow Americans. There was such a huge demand for American flags that Robert Hardin Jr., then the owner of a Greenwood printing company, fired up his press and printed tens of thousands of posters of the flag, with the words “God Bless America” across the front, that he and his employees gave away in a matter of days.
It was the type of unifying moment that I’m guessing my parents’ generation felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The nation rallied around George W. Bush, who had only the year before won a presidential race that was so closely contested it took the U.S. Supreme Court to settle it. Americans by overwhelming margins approved of the invasion of Afghanistan when the Taliban refused to extradite Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida followers who plotted the terrorist attacks. The country later did the same with the war on Iraq.
But it also was a time that sowed divisions that would later explode. Anti-Muslim sentiment helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump. Subsequent revelations that the Bush administration had embellished the evidence to support the invasion of Iraq fed a distrust of government, which presently manifests itself in the stubborn refusal of more than a fourth of this country to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has caused many to question even whether that invasion was worth it.
I still think it was, even though the U.S. sadly learned, like other nations before us, that winning a war in Afghanistan can’t be done in a generation, if at all.
In the 20 years since 9/11, there has been nothing even close to compare to it in the way of terrorism on U.S. soil. That is a huge victory when you think about the suicide bombings and other attacks on innocent civilians we envisioned becoming a regular occurrence in this country, as they have been in the Middle East for some time.
In exchange for this security, Americans have had to accept some unpleasant trade-offs, such as cumbersome screenings at airports and at major sporting events. We have given U.S. intelligence agencies greater leeway not only to spy on the bad guys but almost anyone they choose. We have acquiesced to interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists that we thought only totalitarian regimes employed.
If we could turn the clock back to what the world was like on Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, many of us would. But that world is long since gone, as is the blue top I can’t seem to forget.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.