10 years ago I was doing pick-up consulting work after being laid off. Steve had been laid off in August from his startup. We were both contemplating what we were going to do. We had a couple months of severance and low enough expenses we could take some time and contemplate things. We’d been spending time thinking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Plus, the job market was tight in the Bay Area and it wasn’t clear what opportunities we’d have.
My mother in law called us from the UK right after the plane hit the Pentagon. It was early and she kept apologizing for waking us up. We kept telling her it was OK, that there were times when it was OK to call at unreasonable hours, and this was certainly one of them.
I spent most of the morning frantically trying to find my parents. The house I grew up in is about 8 miles from the Pentagon and on the flight path for National Airport (Reagan field). There wasn’t much information coming from DC, almost everything was focused on New York. My parents weren’t answering the house phone and the cell was out of service. Eventually I calmed down enough to remember that both of them worked at one of the hospitals close to the Pentagon and figured out it was an All Hands On Deck situation and they were probably safe.
I finally got in touch with them and they had been at the hospital all day, supporting the medical staff and the hundreds of people who came in to donate blood.
I remember the fear of the attack. The mental calculations of how many people worked in the towers and fearing the death toll in the tens of thousands of people. Miraculously, the number was less than 10% of what I feared.
I remember the fear after flight 93 crashed. Planes were falling out of the sky. What about my family? The house I grew up in? I lived my life watching planes, some of them low enough and close enough past my 3rd grade classroom that we could read tail numbers. I was so happy when the planes were grounded and no more had hit anything.
I remember the fear of the response. How were we going to respond as a country? Was this going to end up with us turning random parts of the Middle East into black glass? I had little trust in the ability of the president to respond diplomatically. Diplomacy and measured response was not in his nature. And so many voices were demanding vengeance and payback. Would our response make things worse?
While the nukes were never brought out, I’m not sure our response has been worthy of the honor and character of our nation. It seems we allowed our fear to drive us into a war with an uninvolved 3rd party. We’re still there, brave soldiers are still losing their lives. We did go after the group that attacked us, but not very competently, and it took a leadership change here in the US to actually find the person responsible.
Then there are the other bits of our response that make me sad. Secret trials. Torture. Warrantless wiretapping. Government mandated invasive searches. All these things make me sad. I know it was scary. But is fear really an acceptable reason for giving up our rights? I don’t think so.
I wish our response had been better. I always thought Americans were better than this. Our response in the immediate aftermath of the attack was the best we had to offer. Why couldn’t we sustain it?
My challenge is to be better than we have been. And, as an optimist at heart, I believe we can be.