Three days ago, the nation took a break from its daily activities to reflect on the events of five years before – where they were, what they were doing, how they felt, and how they were affected in the long-term at the time, and as a result, of the worst attack on the United States in its 200-year history.
On 9/11/01, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, KY. I had just returned from my morning run when a friend came to my door and told me that a “plane had hit the World Trade Center.”
Imagining a Cessna crash, or some other relatively insignificant occurrence of human-error, I turned on the news – just in time for the second plane impact.
Words can’t describe the emotions I felt as I sat at my kitchen table watching the reporting of the trade center, of the Pentagon being hit, and of the mistaken report that there had been a car bombing at the State Department.
When I finally made it to work, I joined my teammates gathered around a television, just in time to see the first tower come down. I heard the second one fall on the radio as I dashed into headquarters on a quick errand. At that point, another Operator and I paused to share our fury at the day’s events, as well as our frustration not only that we couldn’t immediately go after the culprits, but also that we, as a part of the proverbial Tip of America’s defensive spear, hadn’t been able to do anything to protect those who were victimized that day.
We soon had our chance to act. To the last man, both our special operators and our conventional troops were in the Afghan theater in what seemed like no time – and the rest of the story on that, as they say, is history.
Five years later, 9/11 was remembered in different ways by various individuals, groups, and media outlets. Two University of Georgia students, Clare Hatfield and Patrick Bentley, put together an amazing program on 9/11 then and now, which featured the Deputy Chief of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Battalion Chief of the ACC Fire Department, and Mayor Pro Tem, all speaking not only on their personal recollections, but also about how their organizations and professions were affected in the long-term by the events of that day.
President Bush addressed the nation with what was, in my opinion, one of his best, clearest, and most forceful speeches about the War on Terror to date. Cable outlets such as Fox News replayed their live coverage of the day, while also covering this year’s tributes. ABC ran the surprisingly controversial “Path to 9/11,” which garnered media attention and some outcry, including in letters to this paper, by people who called the film a “distortion of events” – even though they themselves hadn’t yet seen it. Ultimately, ABC cut 30 minutes from the film – all of which came from Sunday’s Clinton-era segment. Interestingly, nobody from the Bush administration was complaining about the free speech utilized in creating and airing this docu-drama, even though they were hardly held to be blameless in the film.
The end result, regardless of ABC’s caving to pressure from Congressional Democrats and former President Clinton’s lawyers (all of whom threatened the broadcast license of ABC’s owned and operated affiliates if the program was aired uncut), was still a very even-handed and well-made docu-drama about the growing global terrorist threat from Islamic Fascists in the middle east and elsewhere, and how 9/11 came about.
In Athens print media, 9/11 coverage was a case of contrasting styles. This newspaper, as did most others around the state and the nation, gave the anniversary front page attention, and ran national stories from the Associated Press reflecting upon the events of the day, as well as local-interest pieces on families and individuals who were affected in a far more personal way by the terrorist attacks, losing loved ones and family members.
Athens’s other daily newspaper dealt with this anniversary in a very different way. The front page of the Red and Black, UGA’s student-run paper, featured a recap of Saturday’s football game and an article about Muslim students “facing prejudice” – with the only supporting evidence of that being a story of mosque vandalism five years ago.
The only mention of the terrorist attacks themselves, the loss of American life, or the anniversary of that terrible day was on the editorial page – and even there, it was severely limited. Two recent UGA alumni gave their lives fighting the War on Terror – and they were only mentioned once, and that in passing. When letters to the editor poured in complaining about the lack of anniversary coverage – as well as the refusal to mention any memorial events being put on by students, including the one organized by Hatfield and Bentley – the paper responded with an editorial defense of Monday’s decisions, saying of the outcry: “If it got students talking, then we did our job.”
The job of the media Monday was not to foster “talk” by summarily ignoring 9/11 – much less by choosing front page stories which serve as a collective slap in the face to the 2,997 innocents who needlessly lost their lives five years ago Monday. It was to remember – and to help others do so, as well.
Even if we, regrettably, don’t carry it with us every day of the year, the anniversary of September 11 should always be a time for America to remember how we bled with the first responders who gave their lives in an effort to save others; how we leapt from the 92nd floor with those who fled the flames for a much grislier death; how we stood alongside the firefighters as they raised the flag from the rubble; how we shed tears with the President as he addressed the nation – and how we felt American pride returning as he took up the bullhorn atop ground zero, and told us that soon, "the world would hear us."
Most importantly, the anniversary of 9/11 should be a clear reminder that we are at war with people who hate us with every fiber of their being. Those who know me know that I would gladly give my life so that any one of the 2,997 victims of 9/11 might be able to return home to his or her family, even for just one more day – as would many of us given a similar opportunity. The people we are fighting, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the globe, on the other hand, would gladly give their lives to make sure that any one of us is not able to return home to our family; rather, their stated goal, in life and in death, is to kill as many of us as possible, regardless of what we say or do. That, beyond anything else, is what we must never forget.