Seven years on, we know the vast majority of Americans were reasonably safe at the time of the attacks. But the panic and fear many of us felt at the time was no less real. 9/11 proved more pivotal in American history than we were able to imagine at the time.
Stories of where we were on September 11th quickly became a traded commodity. Even if we were not directly affected, we find ourselves writing ourselves into one of America's great tragedies. The exercise can be a bit self-referential, and was appropriately lampooned in a Onion article detailing how the casino workers at New York New York Casino in Las Vegas felt especially distraught (for some reason, I can't find the link to that article).
But to some extent, those stories were helpful in bridging gaps between us. Even if we didn't lose a loved one in the towers or planes, things changed. I figured I'd share where I was, and you can share where you were in the comments, or what you've learned these seven years.
I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Fort Bragg is home to, among others, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, as well as the United States Special Operations Command. Fort Bragg also has one of the highest crime rates in the United States.I spent the next six months in Bosnia, a country divided ostensibly between Serbian Orthodoxy (the Serbs), Catholicism (the Croats) and Islam (Bosnian Muslims). If you want to see what nationalism and thirst for vengeance can become, Bosnia is a petrie dish. 90% of the war crimes committed there in the early-90's were perpetrated by the Serbs.
My National Guard unit was training up for a deployment to Bosnia Hercegovina, and we were in a briefing on the state of Bosnia that morning. The maze of ethnic and political tensions in Bosnia would not make sense until we were there, but we were slowly beginning to grasp the general details.
The 1st Sergeant for the company we were joining interrupted the briefing to say a plane had flown into the World Trade Center towers. We pictured a small prop plane and a horrible accident, but we were also wary: the Army can be fairly creative with their training exercises, and some of us figured it could be a test.
The 1st Sergeant kept us updated for the next few hours, but we didn't understand the full extent until lunch, when the mess hall had the news blaring on big screen TVs.
I was surrounded by members of the US military, and the two strongest emotions in that mess hall were anger and and a desire for immediate vengeance. These are natural responses to such horrific injustice, and I understood them. But I also understood the United States, for all the honor and good it stands for, is not perfect. The men who carried out the plots on 9/11 were, likewise, driven by anger and a thirst for vengeance, and that those, too, were responses to injustice.
It may have been reactive, or my innate desire to be unique, but the reactions of the soldiers around me seemed wrong. I'm thankful, at least, that God spared me the hatred others experienced that day.
But that's just the early-90's. Go back to World War II, when Serbs faced persecution and genocide from the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustase. Go back further, to when Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Go back as far as you like, and the story remains the same. The victims and aggressors may play musical chairs, but it's all because no ethnic group was willing to forgive.
This is the thing with justice. It strikes a chord deep in us. I believe vengeance is wrong, but I can't help that deep satisfaction when the bad guy goes down in a movie or television show. I think that chord is there for a purpose, reminding us what we are missing in this world. The fact God gives us that yearning for truth, but reminds us judgment is His alone, is one of the most painful reminders of our Fall.
But we need to be reminded, because we need Him. As all of human history tells us, we do not make for wise judges.