It was my junior year of high school. I was in the library when the first plane hit, about to run to Ms. Najman’s classroom for Chemistry or Advanced Physics (she taught both; I don’t know which class it was, my gut recalls the former). We spent the next fifty minutes on her computer trying to find out more, but were blocked by the first and only global internet malfunction of my lifetime. I don’t think we got through to a single news site.
Terrorism was my gut response. The act was inescapably intentional, I thought, but the idea of domestic terrorism to this extreme was so far removed from my day to day life, that such an event would put me in a surreality. But that’s what 9/11 turned out to be. Things were suddenly different. My perception of the world matured more on that day than it did in all of my sixteen years preceding it.
9/11 marked my introduction to world affairs. I’d heard of Osama bin Laden, but only in passing. I knew he was Middle Eastern and I knew that he hated our country, and that put me among the more knowledgable students in my class.
The state of politics in America immediately following 9/11 is noteworthy. It’s hard to believe in September, 2008, but seven years ago today, our country was not divided. Democrats and Republicans stood together in an act of unity that was genuine and symbolic. Genuine because both sides knew that an immediate response was necessary and symbolic because nothing makes Americans feel more proud than to see themselves come together for a common purpose. We put faith in each others’ parties. This was lauded by seemingly all Washington pundits, and it extended to the President, too. He had the support of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. They had little choice. Though we were a 51/49 country, George W. Bush had the 51 and as President he was called upon.
It’s difficult to evaluate exactly how 9/11 altered my personal beliefs because it came at a time when I was politically dizzy. I could have stumbled in any of several directions, but the overwhelming magnitude of 9/11 cast my interests towards terrorism and the Middle East, naturally. I pondered the relative weight of national security in my list of political priorities. Was it too low? I wondered if either party had their heads in the right place, or if we were surely fucked. It was a traumatic time for me, in part because it was my first experience of such human destruction, and in part because I was wholly ignorant with regard to foreign affairs, and thus I had no substantive ideological grounding.
When President Bush announced our invasion of Iraq in 2003, I felt extremely nervous. I opposed the war knowing that my view didn’t count for anything and that there would be no consequences if I was wrong. I was thankful for that. When people asked me how I felt about it, I replied with ambivalence (not apathy), for fear of being wrong and appearing naive.
My political views have changed little since 2003. I’ve become more firmly grounded in my beliefs. Part of that is because I’ve learned more about the world and how it works since then, and part of it is because I’ve seen what I perceive to be failures of neoconservatism and neorealism. 9/11 was a turning point for me–not because it changed my priorities, but because it forced me to learn about what motivates them and gain a deeper understanding of them.