Brian W. Fairbanks-Writer/Society/9-11


By Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at (September 2001)

We love acronyms, so the tragic events of September 11, 2001 are fated to be immortalized as 9/11, the three digits Americans dial for emergency assistance. Acronyms help simplify complex matters, and we love simplicity, though there is a danger that simplicity can lead to simple-mindedness.

Some simpletons in the U.S. are lashing out at anyone of the Muslim faith, too bigoted to realize that though the terrorists are Muslims, they are killers first. As killers, whatever faith they have has been corrupted to provide moral justification for their immoral deeds. Driving your car through a mosque, as someone did in Cleveland, Ohio, is another act of terrorism, not patriotism, and stealing an American flag from someone’s front porch is theft, pure and simple.

Fortunately, such reactions to the tragedy are not typical, but we have all gone a little crazy in the aftermath. Our imaginations run wild. After watching video of the World Trade Center’s destruction over and over again from a variety of angles, it’s not long before we put ourselves in the place of the victims. We think macabre thoughts, and wonder which fate was more terrifying: to be aboard a plane as it crashed into the tower, or to be working in the tower as the planes ripped through it? U.S. Senator Joseph Biden tells Oprah Winfrey’s audience that they are “more likely to be struck by lightning” than to be a passenger on a hijacked plane. True, but those aboard those hijacked planes were more likely to be struck by lightning too. Even if the odds are a billion to one against becoming a victim, if you are that unlucky one in a billion, those odds are not reassuring. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any one of us.

Only a day after the attack, the whole country looks like the 4th of July revisited. American flags are everywhere. They hang from porches, garages, in store windows, on cars, and the Stars and Stripes are even on view as headwear. And there is talk of war. There is a hunger for war. But other things have not changed. Having been excused from school, children ride their bicycles down my street, a neighbor washes his car, teenage girls board the train with shopping bags from the Gap, and my inbox is once again flooded with offers to get rich working from home in my “spare time.” Life goes on. It must go on. That’s what this war is all about.

© 2001 Brian W. Fairbanks.

About the author

Photos © 2001 The Associated Press

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