Never forget Sept. 11, 2001, they’ve said, for 20 years now. I do remember.
On Sept. 11, I walked into the MetroWest Daily News Framingham newsroom awash in a stunned frenzy of talented people working to get the attacks into the next paper.
Editor Gene Cassidy said they needed someone in Framingham, and asked me what I had going on. I looked at the mayhem displayed on the pod’s TVs: New York, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, and told him my morning plans could wait. I spent the day interviewing people about their reaction to the news.
People were frightened. It was visible on every face. If they had gotten hold of their friends and family, they were wary of what might happen next and if that would endanger them or their loved ones. If they were still out of touch with their friends and family, they were doing their best to get through jammed phone lines, or keep a wary eye on the news.
I remember I was just back from a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida the previous day, a Monday. At T.F. Green, I joked that a police presence there could be responding to terrorists. Terrorists, for me, were movie villains, still, the day before Sept. 11. Back to the Future. Die Hard.
The next day, driving in to Framingham, the traffic on Rte. 85 in Massachusetts was unusually jammed. It had that feel of drivers reacting to crisis. So I turned on the radio, to 94-HJY for some entertainment while I waited for things to clear up.
Paul and Al were unusually grim. The first plane had hit the first of the Twin Towers.
The Supreme Court had recently handed the election to George W. Bush. I had been wondering on my drive in how he was going to handle education – not well, I thought. But it would only be four years. The government was bigger than one guy.
“How much harm could he do?” I had just been thinking.
Quite a bit of harm, it turned out, once the country was distracted by airliners turned into missiles.
The men, women and children who died that day were murdered to frighten us. To make us so angry and afraid that in our rush to revenge we would do the damage to ourselves that they could only dream of.
Sept. 11 was a terrible crime that the inept Bush administration was warned about and failed to prevent — but didn’t fail to exploit.
I remember the two ill-conceived wars, supposedly in response to Sept. 11, that wore on without holding Al-Qaeda to account until after Bush had won and ended a second term on anger and fear. That anger and fear was evident in the torture and sexual abuse inflicted on Iraqis by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. It was evident when America abandoned its commitment to law and human rights by ignoring the habeas corpus rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
I remember the Patriot Act that sicced agents and bots on a nascent digital community, eroding personal privacy. And the librarians who opposed it.
I remember the flag-waving patriotism and hearts softened toward their fellow Americans, then watching the years wear on with people’s hearts slowly hardening until all that was left was the flag-waving.
I remember how during those years a bright, hopeful internet-fueled economic boom curdled into yet another money and power funnel for the few.
I remember how, following a populist backlash against inequality, and leadership increasingly oblivious to the needs of Americans, the Republicans embraced a demagogue who pretended to care about regular folks while the Democrats embraced an establishment pol who rejected the need for change. The result was a march toward fascism, emboldened racism, violence, and insurrection.
I remember how, in the course of 20 years, America has turned from a place where ordinary folks were inspired to extraordinary kindness and fellowship to one where many will not even wear a mask over their face to spare the weak and the vulnerable from a painful, lonely death.
We keep hearing how we should never forget. But I think the gut reaction most of us have to that is to focus on that fear, the anger, the horror. Those feelings have fueled so many self-inflicted wounds the last 20 years. The men, women and children who died that day were murdered to frighten us. To make us so angry and afraid that in our rush to revenge we would do the damage to ourselves that they could only dream of.
We have been telling ourselves to never forget those horrible memories and destructive feelings for a while. It’s long past time to come to grips with the injustices those emotions have fostered. While we never forget, it’s American ideals and values that have been forgotten.
Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.