I lost a friend and teammate on Sept. 11, 2001.
I lost a feeling of security in our country.
I lost trust in our national intelligence community for failure to communicate.
I lost a sense of naivete about the brashness of fearless terrorists disdainful of the Western World.
“9/11” are numerical digits that stand alone in representing a bold and successful assault on our homeland by Mid-Eastern terrorists who successfully hijacked four American aircraft, crashing two into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, one into the Pentagon and one into a Western Pennsylvania field. The latter, targeting our nation’s capital, would have imposed even more human and physical damage were it not for the bravery of its intrepid passengers.
It would be easy on this the 20th anniversary of a horrific tragedy to write about where I was, and what I was doing when I heard and then watched the replay of the deliberate destruction of the World Trade Center in the morning of a pleasant September day. I will avoid that temptation.
Instead, I will dwell on what I believe was the personal, cultural and national security impact of the first attack on our homeland since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
My friend was working in his office at Sandler, O’Neill, an investment firm in the second tower when killed by the penetration of the second tower. Miraculously, his wallet was later found. He commuted to Manhattan from Ridgewood, NJ, where his wife lived. His youngest daughter was working in a building near the World Trade Center and apparently called her father after the first plane struck the first tower. She was the last to speak with him.
Like many other Americans, I felt a personal loss. This act of terrorism was no abstract incident. It was real. It resulted in the death of nearly 3,000 innocent lives whose only fault was their identity as Americans.
Culturally, our country changed forever. No longer can we live without fear as we travel through airports, train stations and bus depots—or attend any large events. For this essay I’m paying no attention to Covid.
The impact of 9/11 unfortunately has tainted the view of Americans toward Muslims, for whom many feel a lasting animus due to the attack on our homeland. We view all Muslins with a jaundiced eye. Dangerous bias has replaced respect for another religion and people who want to live peacefully in our country.
We have experienced restricted movement and access. No longer can we enter public buildings without enduring passage through a security checkpoint. We have become more insular and suspicious, less tolerant and forgiving.
Besides a loss of personal security and comfort, we have become distrustful of our government. The silo way of thinking—protecting our bureaucratic turf and our knowledge—precluded the sharing of important information that may have prevented the highly coordinated assault. While such tribal behavior is part of the human condition, it can and does lead to tragedy.
The war on terror is worldwide. It follows no conventional doctrine of warfare. Senseless acts of violence occur on the bridge leading to Parliament in London or near a Jewish delicatessen in Paris. It spawns domestic terrorism such as the murder of congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Terrorism seems to spawn even more vicious behavior, more death, more broken families, more grieving communities. Those people who harbor grievances seem to feel empowered to wreak havoc on strangers sitting in a church or enjoying the nightlife in a city.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is a time for commemoration, certainly not celebration. It is a time for somber thought and reflection. Maybe we might think about mitigating the causes of terrorism, though that is a mighty ambitious undertaking.
Perhaps the best we can do is treat our neighbors and fellow community members with more tolerance. It’s a small but important step.
Realists might think nothing can be done to prevent another 9/11 except heightened awareness and tighter national security measures. They might be right.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.