September 11th, 2001. – Daniel Johnsey
September 11th, 2001. I was in 7th grade science class. I remember an 8th grade student came in and said something very quietly to my teacher and she turned on the TV in the room. Now it should be known that I was a young person from a small town in Virginia, I had never heard of the World Trade Center. I wasn’t alone in that because someone else asked the teacher what they were when we saw what was going on. My classmates, my teacher and I witnessed the second tower fall live sitting in that class. There was universal shock and fear that we all felt.
By the next period the school administration decided to not let the students watch the news so beyond what teachers would talk about, we were in the dark, until we got home that evening. The days that followed at home were nothing more than myself and my parents staring at the news. I remember having a genuine fear of another attack and my Dad telling me not to worry. It is a moment in time that not only was a terrible loss of so many lives but it defined an entire generation. Compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor and rightfully so because there had not been an attack on our home soil since that day.
As I reflect on the images our nation and the entire world were seeing in those days it still seems like an oddity. People in business suits, running through the streets of Manhattan, looks of horror and confusion. Truly nothing before or after has been seen since from our country.
Then came war! We invaded Afghanistan as a reaction the attacks. Now I want to stop here and make clear that this blog is not about whether things were justifiable, as in our reaction to what happened, nor about any conspiracy theories involving the attacks on the WTC. I have many thoughts on all of those things but they are not critical for the basis of this post.
War news coverage became the new norm for an entire generation. Just two years after these events we invaded Iraq. Almost as clearly as my memory of the images of 9/11 are the images of a military strike called “Shock and Awe.” It was both shocking and awful to watch as our military virtually level the entire city of Baghdad. Things just progressed from there.
I don’t remember the exact date, I do know I was a freshman in High School at this point, I was walking into the school library after lunch when I noticed a crowd of my peers gathering around a computer. I naturally included myself into the crowd just in time to see a video of terrorists beheading an American journalist with a machete. I remember this feeling of horror for a long time after seeing this.
Fast forward to the year 2015, I am married with children, beyond my romanticized thoughts of joining the military myself for some time and it seems things have really settled down. News coverage is sparse and in everyday life the war is rarely discussed. I was listening to a man at work, who was right around the age of 50, recalling a training exercise from his time in the Air Force. The objective of the exercise was to clear a village of all enemy forces. Seems simple enough, not a single person he was with was able to successfully complete this exercise the first time through. The very last enemy they encountered in this exercise had a woman taken hostage, all of them hesitated just long enough to be engaged themselves and it was over. They were then told that the correct action was to shoot through the hostage because the objective was not hostage rescue but eliminating the enemy.
My response to this, what he thought an extreme and crazy concept, was shocking to him. I said, “You guys joined the military, not the peace corp.” My response birthed a conversation that went through several work shifts on the differences in our generations and opinion on wars. He had grown up in that sweet spot somewhere between Vietnam and now, where even when there were military actions taken, they were not on the scale that had seen before and after. I started evaluating my own ideas and some of the correlations or perhaps causations from my formative years being covered in attacks and wars and gruesome images. Not that he wasn’t here for those things as well, but his beliefs and convictions on these things were for the most part cemented. Mine were being developed.
This took me on a long thought journey, on which all I will say has brought me to being mostly a pacifist, with only military action in self defense being right. Perhaps I went too far, or not. Perhaps the actions we took following 9/11 were self defense and then again perhaps not. Truly this event shaped an entire generation, down to their very worldview. I know not everyone felt or currently feels the same way I do but there is no way something of such significance had no effect on our views of the world and war and the concepts of good and evil.
In contrast, the generation directly behind me seems to be in no way effected by those events. This seems more disturbing to me than how very much it effected my generation. How we can live in a culture and society that can be so far removed from such recent events. Even more so that there is still combat going on in those wars that were started because of those events and I feel quite confident that there are some younger people today who would not only be ignorant to the intense fighting that our nation was a part of for so many years but also to the fact that we are still there. This phenomenon seems almost universal, even in myself I go most of the time ignoring such a world altering event and just living life as normal. We seem more interested in arguing whether gender is biological or not and if Trump is the craziest or Clinton.
Vietnam truly was the war that the public hated and even though I know that people gathered at ground zero this morning to remember those lost, it seems that this current war is the forgotten war. A forgotten war that we are still fighting.