We have lived with 9/11 for 10 years today. I was in Florida on a business trip, scheduled to fly out that afternoon for Los Angeles when I woke in time to watch the second plane hit the World Trade Center Tower.
From that moment on, our nation changed. The world changed. I can only imagine that the blow we suffered in the attack on Pearl Harbor might have held the same degree of shock and disbelief. The difference was that six decades earlier we had defined enemies and the mission was clear.
The attack on 9/11 had a more insidious impact on how we would respond because there were a lot of things that weren’t so clear. It took a little time to find out who was behind the attack; the lack of a traditional enemy made our response as a nation historically unique.
We were more fearful, more vulnerable. We did things that in other times and in other conflicts we would have never tolerated.
We sacrificed a new millennium’s promise of prosperity in an effort to preserve and protect our homeland from an unseen and unfamiliar enemy. The billions of dollars spent to guard against this new threat were borrowed from the resources that educate our children, provide for our communities, shore levies against great storms and insure that generations of retirees can leave the work force without fear of being destitute or losing everything they have worked for to catastrophic illness.
We also lost a little of what made this country great. I grew up with the faith that no matter what evil an enemy may inflict, America was always going to stand on principle. We treated prisoners with dignity; we respected the rule of law — a law that was deeply rooted in a moral and ethical code upon which this country was founded.
In the aftermath of 9/11, that commitment changed.
We excused torture by first claiming it was justified and then asserting it didn’t rise to the definition. We watched our right to privacy cave to the pressure of national security and watched without outrage the side-stepping of constitutional rights because doing otherwise would have been complicated.
I think our 10-year experiment with moral relativism has gone on long enough. We should never forget the events of 10 years ago, never diminish the loss and devastation to our country, and cherish the memory of those whose lives were taken and given in an effort to save others.
But I also want my country to reclaim the values and hope for the future that was taken on that day. I want us to recommit ourselves to making this country the embodiment of justice in the world.
I want to challenge our country to find ways to make every school an asset to our communities, and not merely an expense that needs to be managed. I want to build infrastructure and a cleaner way of producing energy because we have the certainty and expectation that there is a bright future for our children.
I want to know that those we trust to protect us will never be tempted to use torture or bend the law by rationalizing it in the name of a greater good.
One of the many things that makes this country great is the way we pull together in a crisis and our commitment to leaving this nation a little better than off than we found it. The immediate aftermath of the attacks on 9/11 demonstrated we could do the former. Its legacy should be how we can once again channel that goodwill to execute the latter.
In these difficult times, we need it.
MICHAEL TEAHAN is a Glendale resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.