With the fifth anniversary of the events encapsulated in the numbers 9 and 11 we hear much about how that day changed the world. Especially the American world, for it was here that just under 3,000 people died that crisp September morning. This was the terrorist attack, by virtue of the death toll and its sheer audacity, that would finally wake up the world to the danger of jihadist intentions.
That was a change. The repercussions of which are still being digested. But anyone just waking up, who has been asleep since the days of the first Bush presidency, could be forgiven for thinking that the downing of the Towers was the first such event. It wasn't, as you know. But why didn't the first time the Towers were hit have the same impact as the second and much more successful attempt?
Eight years before 9/11 a group of Muslim extremists tried to blow up the Towers from below, from the parking lots under the 100-plus stories. The impact was marginal, particularly when compared to the follow-up eight years later. But any one in the terrorist know proclaimed long and loudly that it was only a matter of time before the perpetrators returned to finish the job.
But as Al-Quaeda's scourge burned innocents at the American Embassy in Kenya, as sailors were fried aboard the USS Cole in Yemen's harbor, as women and children were mangled when apartments exploded in Saudi Arabia, the few Americans who thought about it hoped Osama had granted the homeland a reprieve. But for most in a land of fast food, instant gratification and a corporate culture focused on the here and now that first attack on the Towers was soon forgotten. As long as it was over there, it wasn't here. Hear any contemporary echoes?
As a result little to nothing was done to stymie the encore performance experts worried was waiting in the wings. The emphasis was on getting, dead or alive, the criminal architect of all these incursions against civilization. With the head cut from the evil hydra it was thought the monstrous acts would come to an end. There was little appreciation of the fact that the monster could, and would in all likelihood, grow another one. If indeed, as seems to be the case today, the monster needs any head at all when its purpose can be sustained by nameless disciples imbued with the same worldview.
That we didn't fully comprehend the nature and measure of the threat that first made its mark with the 1993 attack on the Towers is understandable. We didn't want to know. So we went on living our lives as if nothing much had happened.
Glaring flaws in America's emergency response apparatus went left uncorrected. Border controls weren't tightened. Hence the blind eye turned to Atta and his gang. Basic counter measures were talked about, just as they were in pre-Katrina New Orleans, but nothing was done, for example, to ensure that the policeman could speak with the fireman. Hence, the high death toll among rescuers at Ground Zero. FBI investigators still refused to share information with CIA anti-terror counterparts. Hence, the uninterrupted flying lessons. For all intents and purposes America was just as vulnerable to terrorist attack on 9/10/01 as it had been on 02/26/93.
Then came the big one. Surely, this would be the eye-opener. This would change the world as we had known it. I said it, most of us believed it. And while the impact on our collective psyche is irrefutable, ask yourselves if much has actually changed when it comes to the living of our daily lives. Where, if there was gain, has been the pain? There's been no substantive invocation of the idea that we're all in this together. And even as Americans die in Iraq, allegedly fighting the war on terror, there's been no call for population-wide sacrifice, for giving something up for the overarching common good. What greater good can there be than our mutual survival?
We even content ourselves with the rhetorical salve that we are safer today than we were five years ago. Not according to the folks who investigated the failings associated with 9/11. Last year they told us the government had performed poorly in implementing counter measures worthy of the threat. According to them we are hardly less vulnerable to Osama's plans than we were 13 years ago when we first learned that the Towers and America's sense of invulnerability were on his hit list.
What are we waiting for? An event big enough to render the whole issue moot?
Tav Murray lives in Christiana. His e-mail address is email@example.com.