where were you when the lights went out?

-for most people reading this, the answer would be "not born yet"


It’s pretty interesting how events get stuck in our minds and become generation-defining things.  For my parents, they had JFK’s assassination, and the Apollo 11 moon landing.  singular events covered in detail by the media that unfolded as the world watched.

9/11 was such an event for me and my generation.


Where was I?  I was writing a lab report for solid mechanics.  First Stenson sent me an IM "yahoo news headline: plane hits world trade center".  I thought some poor pilot got disoriented and flew his Cessna into the side of the building.  Then an email from my dad: "turn on CNN".  I tried to open the website, but it was swamped, as were all the other news sites.  I figured that meant something big was happening, so I went to the living room and turned on the TV, to see the second plane hit.  At that point I realized that this isn’t some kind of accident, this is the first shot of a war.

At a campus-wide event a few days later, Walter Lafeber gave one of the great speeches of the age, echoing the same sentiments: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Sept01/LaFeber.remembrance.html.  I wouldn’t consider that coincidental, considering I was taking his American Foreign Policy class at the time (it met the day before, monday, september 10th).

September 11th has such a resonance not because of the number of casualties, but the fact that it was designed as a noisemaker.  Bin Laden wanted to make a splash, and he did–and the ripples are still felt seven years later.  I think it’s fundamentally different from, say Pearl Harbor, because there hasn’t been a giant response.  To the attack on pearl harbor, the US entered into 3.5 years of total war, culminating in the atomic bombing of two japanese cities, and the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire–and the end of State Shinto and its associated ideologies.  To 9/11, there has been an invasion of Afghanistan which was run in a halfhearted manner, and an ill-conceived invasion of Iraq.  And the clashing ideologies (note ideologies) that brought on the attack have if anything become stronger.

A few days after 9/11, there was a candlelight vigil on the arts quad.  I, with Tony and Ian, went up there to see what was going on.  People milled about and did their thing, and then some Christian group started singing and trying to organize people into some sort of gospel-prayer like thing.  I was incensed.  To use Barack Obama’s line, these people (highly educated, ivy league university students) were clinging to their religion in a time of strife–the same way the terrorist perpetrators of the attacks were using their beliefs to justify their actions.

Soon we will face one of the most important elections in the history of the US.  By Osama bin Laden’s logic, by being part of a democratic system makes us liable for the decisions our leaders make.  To some degree I agree, but I didn’t vote for George Bush (twice), and therefore only bear minimal responsibility for his actions.  That said, it is our collective civic duty to vote in the upcoming election, in an informed and rational manner.


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