After September 11th, the U.S. loses its mind

The following is my response to a request made by a history teacher at my school to recall what I remember of the September 11 terror attacks.

What I remember is the sense that there were multiple incidents — the two planes into the WTC, the hit at the Pentagon, and one plane still missing (until it was later found crashed into rural Pennsylvania). I was watching the TV with my students in my physics room at the old high school, and this was during my first year of teaching, and I wasn’t sure I should be abandoning my lesson plans, but I couldn’t imagine teaching that day. I recall being shocked at first, and then later feeling exhausted from thinking about it all day.

In the days, weeks, and years that followed, I remember being dismayed at how the U.S. responded. As I wrote in an email to a friend in the fall of 2001, “After Oklahoma City [bombing in ‘95] and the first WTC [bombing in ‘93], the response was a CRIMINAL investigation, not a military action, and I’m not sure why the criminal approach was never considered (or so quickly dropped) in this case.” The political leaders of both parties seemed to forget rational debate and deliberation, and what the government did after — passing the PATRIOT Act, torturing suspects, holding people without trial at Guantanamo Bay (still going on), invading Afghanistan (still going on 15 years later), and invading Iraq (even though Saddam Hussein had no connection to the hijackers) — gave the terrorists exactly the over-reaction their attack seemed design to provoke. The scariest part to me, after that first day, was how the public in general seemed to be of one blindly vengeful mind, and I remember feeling quite alone in my dissent.

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