I was new to teaching. Images of the twin towers and details of what had happened were instantly everywhere. The mood in my classroom was dark and fearful. In the absence of facts, newscasters speculated wildly. My students repeated what they had heard. The Northwest has plane manufacturing, McCord Air Force Base, Fort Lewis, shipping, high tech, and a large population all of which were potential targets. Many students were afraid that they were next.
You’re safe, I told them.
My students could accept what they heard on the news at face value but from me they needed a convincing explanation.
It was a coordinated attack, I told them, that relied on surprise. Anything that was going to happen was going to happen all at the same time. I pointed out that the targets were more symbolic than strategic. The World Trade Center represented Western capitalism and the Pentagon represented America’s military strength. The Northwest didn’t have such symbolic targets.
I added that all air travel was now shut down and the nation had instantly become hypervigilant. We weren’t going to be attacked today.
My students became noticeably calmer. I wished that the media had filled their abundant air time with a reasonable assessment of the situation until more information became available instead of using the dearth of facts to frighten people.
That approach by much of the news media continued to lasting effect.
Fearmongering by the news media was fanned and manipulated by politicians and led to many poor decisions including the curtailment of freedoms for everyone-- especially Muslims -- who came unfairly under national suspicion, a tremendous expenditure in lives and national wealth as the U.S. engaged in warfare in Iraq and, twenty years later on, our still-contentious involvement in Afghanistan.
We continue to be impacted by the 9/11 attacks. Our national coffers have been reduced thus impacting our abilities to strengthen the nation. (“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” – Dwight David Eisenhower) Our fighting strength has been impacted. Our credibility with other nations has been damaged. The trend to manipulate much of the citizenry through emotional content continues to be amplified. These are some of the residual effects of 9/11. We didn’t cause 9/11 but our response is ours. We have to be better than this. We owe it to ourselves.