I believe that most US Americans who were alive at the time remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001.
I was at the University of Mississippi and, specifically, and the National Center for Natural Products Research on the main campus. Early in the morning, shortly after our first coffee, one of the student assistants came running through the halls, shouting at everyone to come to the break room. Something terrible was being shown on the television there.
As the hours passed, we remained glued to the set…watching in horror as events unfolded…first, crash of Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, then the crash of Flight 175 into the South Tower…watching people leaping in desperation from the upper windows of the building, unable to exit via the stairways…then the collapse of the South Tower.
The crash of Flight 77 into the Pentagon and the subsequent collapse of 5 stories of that building. The collapse of the North Tower.
Learning of the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania and the fatalities there.
Our working group at the NCNPR was composed of people from all over the world and incredibly diverse. The mood in the break room shifted from shock, to horror, to sadness, back to shock, and – by the end of the day, as the coordination of the events became clear – to anger.
For many of the co-workers, it had been a dream come true to be able to study and work in America, the Land of the Free. Many had grown up with images and ideas of the United States that ranged from hopeful to hopelessly idealistic. I remember watching their faces, many stained with tears, during that day…wondering what they felt about this attack on the land.
Over the next days, the tenor and atmosphere changed: from shock and sadness to a deep, abiding anger. A sense of fervent patriotism arose in many and found expression in various ways…people pinning small US flags over their desks in a show of solidarity, people going to mass and praying for those who had died and were critically injured, people taking to the streets in demonstrations, calling the government to immediate action. In my memories, this seemed to reach a fever pitch in the two to three weeks after the event.
But the shockwaves of 9/11 would be felt for years afterwards…recalled in the lead up to the War on Terror, the search for the Weapons of Mass Destruction, the ’emergency’ passing of the ‘Patriot Act’ (1, then 2), and – of course – the deployment of US soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, 20 years later, the effects still resound through the heart and the mind. The shadows of that event darken many of our thoughts. As I watched the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last month and the horrific images that accompanied this withdrawal, I thought…this is where it (seems to) end.
But perhaps ‘seems’ is the best word to use when describing any of the recent events…or those that occurred 20 years ago.