By Gabriella Levine
Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?
Most people can reach a decade into their past and remember with distinct precision the moment when they heard that planes had crashed into the tallest towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.
I was in the fourth grade when the principal of my school announced on the intercom system that something terrible had happened to our country. She asked everyone to bow their heads in a moment of prayer. At the time, we couldn’t fathom the true tragedy that befell our country, but we bowed our heads anyway and prayed for something that would ultimately change our future.
When we were finished, my teacher looked at the young faces in her class and slowly pointed a finger at the intercom on the wall. With a haunting look of sorrow she whispered, “You will always remember that moment.”
Many of us do remember that moment, but it seems as if some are slowly forgetting the pain left behind by one of the worst tragedies ever to occur on American soil.
After 9/11, America adopted a vigilant attitude that has barely wavered in the 10 years that have passed. But when caution became the norm, security gradually became the enemy.
At first, Americans welcomed national security’s tightened grip on our country. Strict airport security made us feel protected against future threats. But as time passed and our fear waned, security regulations were frowned upon.
Air travel is now a subject of frequent complaints. Longer lines await passengers at airport terminals. No more hot meals for free. No shampoo, mouthwash or any other liquid bottles over three ounces on flights. Removing shoes is mandatory at security checkpoints. Invasive pat downs and full body scans that produce graphic images are now regularly and controversially used to detect weapons. No more going to the gate to see a loved one off.
The list goes on, resulting in an overall experience that is less convenient than pre-9/11 traveling standards. Passengers who were once scared are now irritated by a fear of terrorism that many believe has overstayed its welcome.
Interviews conducted by the Associated Press from nine different flights in August 2011 revealed the general attitude of passengers was frustration over heightened security making most fliers feel like victims.
In one interview, a woman expressed that she was “sorry we have to live this way because of bad guys.”
Many fail to understand that counterterrorism is not the enemy, and we are not its victims. On 9/11, I was in a fourth grade classroom, a small environment that mimicked a large fact of life—if one student stepped out of line, then the rest of us paid the price. Most of us learn at an early age that the actions of a few people can inevitably affect the majority, for better or worse.
While we may not be responsible for the acts of terror, it is our responsibility to prevent those acts from occurring again.When we walk into an airport terminal and face the battle between security and expedience, we must never forget that there are people who will stop at nothing to hurt others. Passengers of any airline should never be viewed as low-risk no matter their age, skin color or appearance. If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that there is always a risk.
On Aug. 13, 2001 a terrorist purchased four-inch pocketknives at a Sports Authority Store in Florida. Less than one month later, these knives were used by hijackers to slash the throats of passengers and crew members while they commandeered our planes.
In pre-9/11 times, our focus was far from terrorism and from imagining that four-inch pocketknives could be used to orchestrate a fatal act of terror. Though it’s difficult to venture into the realm of “what ifs,” the thought is unavoidable: what if our attitude toward terrorism in 2001 was as vigilant and alert as it is in 2011? Our current counterterrorism measures may have changed the fate of our country on Sept. 11, 2001.
Our dissent of counterterrorism efforts has created a tremendous oversight. How would the true victims of 9/11 feel about this?
Resentment toward efforts made to protect us is an insult to those who lost their lives and to those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Would they have forfeited their shampoo bottles, braved the long lines at terminals, and accepted the security pat downs? Would they have traded their traveling conveniences in exchange for their lives? I think that their answer would be—as all of our answers should be—a resounding yes.
If we remember where we were and how we felt the moment after hearing that 2,977 people died, perhaps an understanding of our country’s vigilance will be renewed.
Where were you on that day?