“Now things will have to change,” was my first cogent thought after witnessing the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. It didn’t take long for me to make the connection between these horrific acts and the desperation engendered in the world by a corporate system run amok. Before the TV anchors had figured out that the two planes weren’t a fluke, I knew that much. But what a fool I was.
It was always clear to me that my way of life was enjoyed on the backs of an other-world of less privileged people. I knew the dirty little not-so-secret collusion between the West and the oil-rich Saudi sheiks. I just preferred not to think about it. I lived in the richest country in the world, a nation of plenty with an unparalleled higher education system. I was happy that my children were growing up in peace and prosperity, enjoying the fruits of their father’s entrepreneurial talents. But my quality of life was too good for the effort I invested. If I had been born on another continent, or even a different color, I would have told a different story. That much I knew.
So when the towers fell, what did I expect? Would our foreign policy now require human rights around the world as a price for doing business with us? Was Wall Street going to end its assault on the middle class as a result of this attack? Would the Ivy League suddenly start encouraging its pampered class to build industries that required educated minds and healthy bodies to run them rather than devising esoteric accounting methods that yielded gain for some and ruin for most?
I think I thought they would. But then, forgive me, I was running scared through my once-peaceful neighborhood, near the school my husband helped build through negotiation and the democratic process, to rescue my child from a tumbling inferno of certain disaster. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
I wasn’t thinking clearly two years later when I gathered my family and friends to peacefully but vigorously protest the unjust invasion of Iraq in order to settle a Bush family vendetta against a brutal dictator. Did I really think our voices had a chance against the privileges of power?
“They hate our freedom” we were told to make us think we were free. Are our soldiers free when the only decent job available to them involves fighting an enemy thousands of miles from home? Are they free when they are better-trained in waging war than in any peaceful industry? It’s true we at home are free to be anesthetized to our fear. And I’d rather be an anesthetized American than a traumatized Iraqi. But this freedom our children enjoy is different from the freedom we Americans believed in. It is a freedom that exists only in contrast to the servitude of the rest of the world. We have come no closer to the “free world” envisioned in my childhood by President Kennedy. The “freedom tower” that rises in the frame of my Lower Manhattan living-room window will never obscure the memory of the crumbling Trade Center and the innocent lives destroyed there and elsewhere on that bright fall day.
Now, 10 years later, if I am asked to reflect on that disastrous morning of clarity, I don’t know what to say except that I am still in mourning for the lives lost that day and for the innocence I once clung to. The innocence that dared to think “Now things will have to change.”