I'm not there yet

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2002

Because this is the Sunday before the first anniversary, our attention involuntarily refocuses.

Because nothing like this ever had happened to most of us, I don't have to specify the event. We know.

We all were there, even if we weren't.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.

It happened to each of us, even if it didn't.

It didn't end, even when it was over.

I don't know when it will end. Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the only experience I had with anything similar was being in Oklahoma City within hours of the bombing of the federal building. Seven years later, I still do not allow my conscious mind to open the doors that lead to the children in the Murrah Building nursery school. The best antidote for the heartache lying in wait is to curtail exploration of the memory.

And I know Sept. 11 was Oklahoma City magnified tenfold.

I wasn't around on Dec. 7, 1941. Has the hurt and horror of Pearl Harbor diminished in the hearts and minds of those who reacted in disbelief to the radio reports on that Sunday morning?

Despite the shock and pain generated by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the differences between 1941 and 2001 are the differences between radio and television and between black and white and color.

When radio newscasters reported the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet, listeners could only imagine the devastation. Black and white news photos followed. When newsreel footage reached the mainland, the images moved but they remained black and white.

Last Sept. 11, nothing was left to our imagination - and still we couldn't believe our eyes.

We saw the Trade Center towers ablaze, people leaping from windows, the towers collapsing, clouds of dust enveloping the quick and the dead of Lower Manhattan. We saw it live, or, if it took a little while to get to a TV set, in taped replays that included the second, third and fourth airliners.

And, we have seen the most compelling images regularly ever since - unless we turn away or change channels.

As the anniversary nears, we practically are forced to reconsider the event. What does it mean? How have we changed? How should we feel? Because your opinions and feelings are as valid as mine, I invite you to share. Let me hear from you today, tomorrow - anytime - by letter, e-mail or fax.

From my perspective, I think 9/11 means we had let our guard down in almost every way that could matter and that we are suffering the consequences of complacency.

We cannot claim we did not know the world is a dangerous place. The World Trade Center, our embassy in Kenya and the USS Cole had been attacked by a terror network that never seemed to get our full attention. In hindsight, we cannot help but see business as usual.

I suspect we did not want to be inconvenienced nor taxed enough to secure our airports, flights and borders. Congress and the INS allowed millions of people to enter our homeland on the basis of unscrutinized documentation. The INS promptly lost track of the newcomers.

The CIA and National Security Agency created the world's most sophisticated eavesdropping network but blithely gathered more information than could be processed.

The FBI was so bureaucratically moribund that it squelched the detective work of field agents who recognized the dangers of flight training undertaken by "students" with terrorist connections.

No day has passed without the background noise of government reorganizing to address the terror threat. But if an FBI, CIA, NSA, INS, White House or congressional potentate has been fired, the news eludes my memory.

Actions have consequences, but so do inactions. Accountability can make a difference, but it comes with a price we still may not be willing to pay.

9/11 is with us 24/7, but on those rare times I allow myself to consider the horror of skyjacked jets and burning buildings I always reach a threshold that requires me to consider the individual people in the planes and in the offices and the families waiting for them on the ground.

If I didn't know even one of them, why does it still hurt more than I can bear and why do I slam the door on those feelings?

I don't know how long it will take to sort my emotions. I hope it's OK to be struggling. I know I'm not there yet.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. Contact him at streed@juneauempire.com.

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