I was working at my desk in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC on September 11, 2001. As usual, I took a quick break to check the on-line news and I saw a plane crash into one of the World Trade Center towers.
The only word I can think of to describe the next few hours in the DC area was pandemonium. Reports of actual events were mixed with unfounded rumors and broadcast as though everything was really happening. I heard the State Department building was under siege. The White House was next. The whole city of Washington was being attacked.
As all the conflicting stories came in, a sense of unreality settled on the area. Our attention was split between the terrible images coming from New York city and the confusion about what was happening in the DC area. What kind of airplane crashed into the Pentagon? Was it really a passenger jet or was it a small personal aircraft? Was the State Department still in danger? Was the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania headed for the White House? Why did it crash?
Were all these events connected or was everyone suffering from mass hysteria?
The next few days brought sounds of jet fighters patrolling the airspace over the DC area 24/7. Helicopters traveled their undisclosed routes day and night.
Then the personal stories started: A friend of a friend in New York had missed her regular morning train and was alive because she overslept. Another had visited the Towers for the first and last time that day. And the images continued to remind us of the pain we all shared.
In the shared pain, I found an America I don't recall experiencing before. In that America, there were no political divisions. There were no white collar, blue collar social classes. There were just Americans coming from all over this country to help New Yorkers stand back up and clean up the mess created by people who had used our freedoms to prepare an attack against us.
And now so many years later, I think of the wasted opportunity we had in the wake of that horrendous day. A political agenda turned that opportunity on its head. We were fed phony evidence, proving somehow a country that had nothing to do with that event needed to be attacked.
No doubt, we were damaged on 9/11 but not as much as the damage we've suffered in the wake of the actions taken by an administration of hawks and neo-cons. The people whose grand plan to spread democracy to the unwilling required a strong military hand.
Well it's been twelve years since that horrible day. And I'm reminded of its consequences every time I pass through an airport to visit friends and family. Every time I hear a politician argue for more warlike acts to solve an international problem. Every time I read about a radical Muslim attack on innocent civilians.
But there is hope. As a species we just might be beginning to see what has been long taught by the great prophets: peace won't be won by war and violence.
America is a different place today. Of all the destructive effects of that terrible day, we've learned not to trust a government that took us to war by selling us a bill of goods about WMD's that didn't exist and fabricating connections to the attack on 9/11.
So maybe we've learned that our distrust is justified. Maybe we're acting in our own best interests when seven in ten Americans don't want any form of military intervention in Syria. We've had enough war -- at least most of us have.
So on this anniversary of that terrible day, we can offer a reminder to President Obama. A reminder that he stated clearly and unequivocally "the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future. "
Hopefully the not-too-distant future is today.