Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.
Little did we know, 11 years ago today, that within 48 hours our lives, our nation, and our world would be changed forever.
The weekend after Labor Day in 2001 was a normal one for most Americans — summer was winding down, a new school year was in full swing, football season on the horizon. We had no way of knowing that in just two days “normal” would take on a whole new meaning.
After a boringly routine Monday, Tuesday morning dawned like any other. It would not end that way.
As we near the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that haunting image of the twin towers, smoke billowing into the sky, has again made its way to television screens. It was an image seared into our collective psyches by the end of the day that sad Tuesday just over a decade ago.
In the shocking hours after the attacks, as we tried to absorb what had happened, none of us truly knew the changes that would come as a result of the three-pronged attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, saw a plane full of heroes crash into Pennsylvania farmland, and damaged the Pentagon.
The latter attack killed Gainesville native Edna Stephens.
We just knew that everything suddenly was going to be different. Even as we pulled together collectively to prove we were resolute in our faith in the nation’s ability to rebound, we also absorbed the reality that safety at home was no longer a certainty.
It was the first of many lessons we have learned since that day that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
As time does what it always does, we learned a new lexicon as well. Names like al-Qaida, Taliban and bin Laden suddenly had meaning for the masses rather than just those involved in the inner workings of the nation’s government. We were recruited as supportive participants in a “war on terror” that would take us to Iraq and Afghanistan and to terrorists’ strongholds and training grounds in nations most of us barely knew existed.
We were told there would be no quick fixes, that the effort to find the Islamic extremists responsible for what had happened to our nation would be unlike any other in the history of the country, which has certainly proven to be the case. This would not be a war against a military unit, or a foreign country, but rather one fought against roving bands of religious and political fanatics for whom human life meant little.
And so what started in the first year of George W. Bush’s first term as president continued through his second term, through the first term of his successor, Barack Obama, and will continue into the next presidential term as well.
Eleven years, thousands of American troops dead on foreign soil, and still we fight on. We must fight on.
Addressing the nation nine days after the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush offered these words to the American people:
“It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We’ll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We’ll remember the moment the news came — where we were and what we were doing ..”
“Almost to normal.” Given the damage done to the nation’s spirit that fateful day, perhaps that is the best we can hope to achieve, knowing that the “normal” of those days prior to the attack will never again exist.
We are 11 years into a new and different world, one of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, one thankfully without Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, though there are others just as evil standing in line to take their place.
As the former president said, our resolve must not pass. And we do remember, will remember, not just as the anniversary of those events nears, but every day as we confront the reminders of the change brought about on that fateful Tuesday morning.
With the passage of 11 years, we can’t escape the fact that for a youthful generation of Americans, the lives we now lead are normal. Just as youngsters growing up during the Cold War learned to live with the fear of an impending nuclear attack from Soviet enemies, those who are growing up in the post-9/11 America have never known a time when terrorism wasn’t a threat to safety.
Generations to come will never know what it was like to fly an airplane without the hassle of airport security. They will not remember when private conversations weren’t monitored by the government. They will not know how it felt to feel isolated and safe from the brutality of terrorism that once seemed to threaten others in the world, but not us, not here, not on American soil. That, perhaps, is the most painful casualty of all.
We have proven resolute; we must never forget.