My daughter will turn 10 before the end of the year.
For her, what happened 10 years ago today is just part of the reality of her world. There is no before and after, there is just the way things are. Onerous security check points and having to remove your shoes at the airport, or getting pulled aside for a full pat-down and luggage inspection because it is a slow period at the check point and the TSA people find it easier to meet their quota of such checks when they are not busy, that is just part of her world.
There has been a war going on in Afghanistan forever as far as she knows and there was another one in Iraq, which I guess we won in the end. It is the Middle-east and just because something looks one way on a given day doesn’t make it the long-term reality. And the Afghan conflict is the just pointy end of a whole global war on terrorism that has bred an anxiety that we might be victims at any time.
And I think about this and wonder how strange that is as essentially a starting point for ones own personal reality.
How different from my own.
And yet how similar.
Because when I was nearly 10, planes were being hijacked in the Middle-east. Security checkpoints were being put into airports to keep people from getting on to planes with weapons. Granted, things were less serious. I remember coming back from a trade show about 15 years ago and one of my co-workers realizing he still had a 4″ folding knife in his pocket while we were at the check point. The agent looked at the knife, unfolded it, and held it up so his supervisor. The supervisor looked at it and shrugged. The agent folded it, handed it back, and away we went, better armed that any of the 9/11 hijackers.
And there had been a war going on in Vietnam forever for as far as I knew. It was there on the evening news every night. But that was just the pointy end of the stick in relation to the whole cold war, a war that we seemed to be losing. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle-east seemed to be falling in line with the Soviet Union while NATO quibbled over details as the French tried to distance themselves from the whole thing.
And over this hung the specter of nuclear war, sudden instant death that might fall on us with at most a 30 minute warning.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was able to make sense of much of what was going on when I was 10. There I was able to see how hollow the advance of the Soviet Union in the third world really was. Turns out a lot of people will mouth your philosophy if it legitimizes their dictatorship and gets them some guns.
And there was plenty of stupidity to go around in the west as well. There were plenty of examples demonstrating that merely being against something, like Communism, was not a viable political philosophy. Being an enemy of our “enemy” should not necessarily make you a friend, as any number of our past friends should indicate. The same goes for some of our current “friends.”
But all that was only easy to spot after the fact. Hindsight is a much more exact science than seeing into the future. At that moment in time in the past, as with any given moment of time now, the government felt the need to be “doing” something and most people accepted that something needed to be done. But did we do the right things?
The judgement of history takes time. And for something like 9/11, a polarizing event like Pearl Harbor, history almost has to wait until all of those affected… which is almost every one of us… have passed on before a real assessment can be made. Those of us with an emotional point of view to defend cannot write an objective history.
So I wonder how the history of this time will be written, though I will no doubt be long gone before the whole thing can be seen in a broader context.
And I wonder what the children of my daughter’s generation, those to be born 10-30 years from now, will see as normal facts of life as they are growing up.