I don’t doubt that in the face of Tuesday, September 11, 2001’s horrific events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, both Dan Geller and Amy Dykes of the band called “I Am The World Trade Center”, might now have some reservations about their group’s name. Seeing that name on a handbill, much less a marquee, certainly runs the risk of not sitting well with their fellow New Yorkers.
But in my opinion, that name serves an entirely appropriate sentiment for those of us who have survived the attack. For the families and friends of the victims of these attacks, each act of terror was an intimate violation, and for each who has died there are many more grieving for them. For Americans, an assault on symbols of the nation’s strength and progress is an attack on the way of life that each and every one of us demands. And for the world, such terrorist actions are a reminder that individual freedom, ideas of democracy and the sanctity of life itself, are always at risk.
Events such as those that transpired in New York City and Washington, D.C., could happen anywhere. Therefore each of us is, metaphorically at least, is the World Trade Center. Each plane used in this destruction ripped its way through the fabric of our lives, and as first one tower of the World Trade Center, then the other, crumpled and fell so, too, did the illusion of our isolated safety and our general blindness as a nation to the horrors of mass destruction elsewhere in the world.
This opinion is not meant to minimize the enormity of each life lost in this tragedy. Indeed, from the passengers and crews of the airplanes to the individuals working in their offices to the selfless bravery of the emergency and rescue crews, the lives lost are infinitely more important than the loss of a few buildings. However, at times like these, everything takes on a hyper real, symbolic nature. The act of terror itself is symbolic. For many of us, the images of the bombed and leveled buildings in New York and D.C. are the only direct connection we will have to this horror. From these images our collective national identity will be reevaluated and coalesced. While the questions of “who” and “why” are at the forefront of these attacks, the deeper question of what change this will make in the national psyche is already beginning to emerge.
I had the unfortunate distinction of living through the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 in a very personal manner. The school was my alma mater, and at the time of the shootings my two younger brothers were attending the high school. Gratefully, no one I knew was killed or injured, but my brothers lost friends and acquaintances. Living only a mile from the school, the sight of the school cordoned off by police tape for months on end was a constant reminder of the day’s nightmare. Although the scope and scale of the devastation in New York and D.C. are barely comparable to what happened at Columbine, I feel I can relate.
Two years after the Columbine shootings, the school is once again bustling with students who don’t seem the least bit afraid to walk through its halls. The shock and horror seems to have faded from my community’s immediate consciousness. While the events that we lived through will never been totally forgotten—indeed reminders pop up everywhere from bumper stickers to construction crews working on a permanent memorial—for the most part, people’s lives have moved on and every day life has regained a sense of normalcy. Perhaps the most promising thing that arises out of any disaster is the ability of the human spirit to bounce back and survive. In my town it is once again a common sight to see teenagers skipping through parking lots and laughing with friends.
But it wasn’t promise I felt as I watched a group of teenagers laughing amongst themselves on the evening of September 11. I was mortified to see them acting oblivious and unconcerned on the very night of the worst attack on U.S. soil. This lack of concern carried over into the morning after, when I tuned the TV to VH-1 and was confronted with Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly” video. Is this kind of broadcasting at this time in our lives as tacky and in poor taste as the behavior of the teenagers? Absolutely.
Perhaps the fact that humans can live through and overcome destruction and horror is the best news we’ll have over the coming weeks. Yet how much of that ability is simply the result of a lack of empathy? How much of resilience is simply learning not to care? I’m not sure which is worse; a bunch of teenagers totally oblivious to pain and a national crisis, or a network’s programming executives who are too out of touch to check their scheduling a day after such an event. If we forgive the teenagers for being young and naïve, can we blame them when they grow up to become ignorant adults? If an event in New York is too far away to affect a community in Colorado - especially a community that not long ago faced its own nightmare - then how can we expect anyone in America to ever care what happens in the rest of the world?
It is my sincerest hope that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 will force isolationist Americans to care more about world events and help us to realize that we are part of a global society. I hope that, in the future, when we are broadcast scenes from the opposite side of the globe, scenes of bombed capitals and exploding buildings, those images will serve as painful reminders of similar events in our own country. Maybe then Americans, collectively at least, will lose our often unsympathetic attitudes towards the hideousness of war. Maybe then we will comprehend acts of war and violence as atrocities against humanity, rather than reduce destruction to abstract images of symbolic action.
But I doubt it. The vast majority of people will eventually forget. We will regain normalcy. And on some level this must happen for Americans, and the world, to ever progress beyond the animosity that fuels violence. Yet, if there is any hope of making the abstract personal, of communicating to every person alive that such attacks are more than just pictures on TV and more important than many of the trivial concerns that complicate our everyday lives, then I think it lies in finding a personal connection to our tragedies. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were more than just buildings; they were symbols of the solidarity and security of the United States. Both symbolically and concretely, we were each assaulted by these acts of brutality. Therefore, after seeing and feeling this most recent national tragedy, I am proud, scared, anxious, and angry to pronounce that I, too, am the World Trade Center.