War & Peace
A Very Different Me: My Reflections on 9/11, One Year After
It´s been a year now. September 11, 2001 marked the most tragic day in American history since the Civil War. I am lucky to have begun my travels after that day. I have heard from Americans living abroad that feel as if they have been irreversibly distanced from their country and their people due to their absence that day. But now, from a more international viewpoint, I would like to share some thoughts with you.
First of all, I will admit that the events of that crystal-clear blue morning a year ago did change everything. That is undeniable. But we are still here. Our great country is still just a strong, perhaps even stronger than ever. Who can ever forget how the horrible events of that day galvanized our nation? In my lifetime I had never seen such unity among people who, just a day earlier, had been complete strangers.
I have had the blessing and the curse of being outside of my country for this year in its entirety. I say blessing because I have been fortunate to experience various countries, their peoples and cultures, and their perception of America and Americans. These perceptions are mixed but on the whole very negative. I would implore any of my fellow Americans who have not been outside the boundaries of the wonderful United States to travel abroad.
It´s a big, beautiful world, and very often it is a world which shatters our insulated American perceptions of the way things are out there. I learned much about foreigners’ mentalities towards the USA this year. From friends and from educated individuals I gleaned much valuable insight into the many valid arguments against us. From uneducated people and the reflexively anti-American I witnessed the ugly yet still very real face of hatred towards us. I have seen Osama bin-Laden t-shirts in Thailand and in Greece. I have seen street fights between Greek-Americans and Greeks. A well meaning Canadian friend had two teeth knocked out a couple of weeks ago. A Canadian! A certain Australian friend of mine had a father who believes that Saddam Hussein is a hero. I wonder what kind of heroism compells a nation´s leader to use chemical weapons against his own citizens. This is the curse I speak of.
People who say that we deserved what happened on September 11th 2001 (and I hear this somewhat often) are sure to get an earful from me. I consider myself open-minded, but I cannot bring myself to understand this. Yes, much of our foreign policy is abrasive and hypocritical. Yes, as the most powerful nation on earth we swaggered about with a certain air of untouchability. But do these offenses warrant the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilian lives?
Some called September 11th “another Pearl Harbor.” I strongly disagree. First of all, more people died on Septmeber 11th. Secondly, and more importantly, while Pearl Harbor was a dastardly and underhanded assault, it was still a military strike on an enemy military installation, wholly within the paramaters of warfare.
What happened last year was completely different. It was an act of terror orchestrated by a madman who commanded others to their deaths in the name of religion while he sat back comfortably thousands of miles away. I have heard people say that these jihadists are brave men fighting for Allah. I will admit that it takes a certain level of testicular fortitude to hijack a plane and then proceed with your macabre tasks, knowing full well it means your own demise. But I submit that if there is an after world, these perpetrators were surely denied the pleasures of paradise. The thousands of destroyed lives guarantee that they will forever be damned.
I say, to all those who would oppose my country so vehemently, think carefully about this. America is not perfect. Far from it. But when in the history of the world has there been a country in such an unopposed position of power and used this power first and foremost for the GOOD of mankind? Again, you can find many points to nit-pick about the wrongs the USA commits. I argue these are small indeed. Never before in the world has a country been so enormously powerful yet relatively benign. Proof of this lies in every corner of the world. While our European friends may have different IDEAS about the shape and course that the world should take, the IDEALS are the same. Deep down inside every reasonable person knows this. That is why it was not only the USA that wept on September 11th 2001.
And that is why, a year later and after encountering the blessings and curses of meeting people from all over the world, I feel compelled to share these thoughts with you, wherever you may be from.
-Brett Wilkins; September 11, 2002