14 Years Later: Why It Has to Start to Feel Normal

This is the 14th anniversary of the attacks on the United States by Al-Qaida. If you were alive that day and old enough to be aware of what was happening, you will almost certainly never forget where you were.

This morning, Jim Geraghty of National Review posted a piece from his Morning Jolt asking if 9/11 was become too normal:

Doesn’t feel like 14 years have passed, does it?

I think I’m starting to understand how the Greatest Generation used to feel when December 7 would come and go on the calendar with barely a mention of the date’s significance. On the one hand, life has to go on. We can’t live in fear. Our foes want us paralyzed and overwhelmed by the horrific brutality of their actions. In 2011, the date fell on a Sunday, and the NFL played games.

Today — barring some terrible interruption from the bastards in al-Qaeda or ISIS — the kids will go off to school. We’ll all go to work. High-school football games will be played tonight. For millions of Americans, everything will seem pretty normal. In some ways, that’s pretty remarkable, and a testament to our men and women in uniform, our intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and everyone else with a hand in the tough, endless work of keeping Americans safe.

Some members of the Millennial generation may have clear memories of that day, but many were too young to have really understood what was going on. We are as far from that Tuesday morning as Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was from September 2001.

And yet, it feels like we’re still processing the lessons of that day. For many of us, the brutal lesson of 9/11 was that we spent our lives walking around believing that unimaginable nightmarish horrors like skyscrapers disappearing in a cloud of smoke don’t just happen . . . and then one day, they did. Suddenly the unthinkable isn’t so unthinkable. And in that autumn, for many of us, the question was whether the future held even worse terrors to come. Chemical next time? Biological? A mushroom cloud on the horizon one day?

By and large, those worse terrors haven’t arrived – although assorted malevolent forces like the anthrax mailer, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the Fort Hood shooter certainly tried. So have we, as a country, been spending the past f14 years waiting for another shoe to drop that never will? Or will it come some day, feeling even worse when it arrives because we let go of that late-2001 dread?

I sent him an email responding as to why it had to feel just like a normal day:

As someone who is part of Gen X, I know I will never forgot where I was when 9/11 happened. Nor will I forget the sadness and anger I experienced when I learned that a former co-worker had been killed at the Pentagon and that a friend’s sister’s fiance was killed when the Towers fell. I can still recall the unease that permeated America in the months after the Towers fell as we wondered where and when the next attack would come.

But those attacks never came. Yes there have been terror attacks since, but nothing as audacious as 9/11. And that is a tribute to American ingenuity and know-how. We learned lessons from 9/11, not all good, but we learned them. And as we learned and internalized the lessons, we did something very important: we got on with the task of living.

There comes a point when the anniversary of a tragic day has to become a normal day. The day is not forgotten, but it cannot encased in amber and nothing changes. 14 Years after America’s entrance into World War 2, West Germany was a member of NATO, and Japan was a member of the United Nations. There was undoubtedly a lot of raw feelings in this country about both Axis Powers, but there was also an acknowledgement that holding perpetual grudges against them served no purpose.

That is the secret to American Exceptionalism. We look back and remember, but we do so while moving forward.

Look around the world, at cultures and societies that don’t do this. They live in the past, are unable to live in the present, or plan for the future. How much of Middle Eastern societies are predicated on grievances, real and imagined, that go back hundreds of years? None of these cultures have adapted to world as it is. As the UN Arab Development Reports have noted, the Middle East is not a hotbed of new ideas and technological advancement. Instead these cultures keep looking at what once was and wish to return to those alleged Golden Days. Isn’t ISIS the logical conclusion to such societies? How else to explain an organization dedicated to building a bridge to the 7th Century.

9/11 will always be a part of America. But we can’t allow it to become what defines us. That’s why it must start to feel like a normal day.

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