Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years After 9/11

There are going to be a whole lot of things written about the events of September 11, 2001, ten years after the fact.  People are going to be typing up their memories of that day, and trying to measure how things have changed or failed to change since that event took place.
9/11 is a huge topic.  Many books will be and have been written about it, trying to put the whole thing into some sort of perspective.  Given all of the attention that the "big picture" 9/11 stories are getting this week, I wanted to just scale things back a bit and give my account of how 9/11 has affected my life.  I knowing full well that I've felt nothing but the most minor traces of the impact of 9/11, and that it only affected me in the most indirect of ways, but I think that 9/11 affected all of us probably more than we realize as we go about our day to day lives.  The attack and its aftereffects have just become ingrained as part of our social fabric, so we don't really think about them unless we take a moment to reflect.
Of course, like everyone else, I find myself standing in line with no shoes or belt in airport security lines.  I occasionally think about the ways that The Patriot Act has made it easier for the government to invade our privacy without much judicial review.  The 9/11 attacks, coupled with several less successful subsequent attempts at attacks on the U.S., have made us all a bit more jumpy and cautious when it comes to unexpected, public incidents.  I remember being at ACL Fest a few years ago when a port-a-potty caught fire.  None of us knew the cause, but we all saw black, billowing smoke rising over the crowded festival grounds, and there were some moments of uneasiness before one of the musicians noted that there had simply been a small accident.  We all sort of breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It's bizarre to realize that some religious wacko sat in a cave or desert hideout somewhere, probably right before the end of the millennium, and planned an unlikely attack designed to take down the World Trade Center.  Years later, we're all worried about the possibility of enemy-inflicted mass casualties when a public toilet catches fire at an Austin music festival.
Another change in my life that can be attributed in no small part to the events of 9/11 deals with my professional life.  I've been working in the veterans court for almost a year now, and I've been going to planning meetings for it that started probably almost a year before that.
The veterans court might have come to fruition without the 9/11 attacks, but then again, it might not have (or it certainly might have taken a much longer time to start one in Austin).  Once again, the chain of events is just strange when you really think about it.
Radical Islamic terrorists launch an attack against the U.S. and take down the World Trade Center.  The U.S. enters into a war on terror, sending troops into both Afghanistan and Iraq to contain threats against the West.  American troops end up fighting nasty counter-insurgency campaigns in both countries.  Troops return to the Austin area after having experienced extremely traumatic events (e.g., friends being killed by roadside bomb, sniper, and rocket attacks; exploding suicide bombers; busloads of Iraqi police being killed by explosions; the identification of bodies in mass graves; etc.).  Our troops suffer post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions related to their combat experiences.  As a result, some of these veterans have anger control issues, self medicate with drugs and alcohol, and display other problematic behaviors related to their combat experiences.  Some of them get in fights or get behind the wheel of a car and drive when they really shouldn't.  These are the people who end up in the veterans court, mostly.  So, somehow we end up with a veterans court twice a month on Thursday evenings because some jackass in a terrorist training center in Afghanistan got an idea to fly a couple of planes into the World Trade Center.
Of course, we might have found a different war to fight if 9/11 hadn't happened.  But then again, maybe not.  Maybe we wouldn't have enough of a population of traumatized vets to justify a veterans court if we hadn't had the two wars spawned by 9/11.  I like my job, but it would be nice to have fewer troubled vets.  It would have been nice if 9/11 hadn't happened and we hadn't ended up going to war.
And it's weird to think about the fact that it was almost exactly ten years ago that we all watched events on TV that would ultimately send our troops off to war.  It's even stranger to realize that enough time has now passed that they've not only gone to war, but have already returned to this country as veterans (many having done multiple tours) and are now working to settle into healthy civilian lives.
So that's my little part of the conversation.  I know it's not the most dramatic 9/11 story that you're going to hear this weekend, but maybe it gives a little peek at how 9/11 had some indirect impact on everyday Joes like me- the people who weren't near ground zero on 9/11, were never first responders, were never in the military, and who never lost loved ones.  I certainly don't mean to say that my story is anywhere near as meaningful as the stories that these people have, either.  I guess my point, if I have one, is just that 9/11 factors into the lives of a lot of us in one way or another.  Sometimes those connections are hard to quantify, but I think almost all of our lives have changed in certain ways, whether we immediately notice them or not, since 9/11.
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I sometimes have quarrel with our politicians and their decisions, but also want to give a big hats off to our troops and the first responders who keep us safe.


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