A guy in knew in graduate school, whom we called ‘the alpha-male,’ told me once he looked at himself every day in the mirror and made himself a promise: “I will not be a victim today.” We had a lot of friction in our relationship, but I took that to heart and have never forgotten it.
Today, we honor the heroes and remember those who died in the terrorist attacks on this date ten years ago. I won’t call them victims. But I ask every citizen of the United States to ask themselves today if they have become victims without realizing it.
We had recently moved to DC, had just bought a house, we were planning our October wedding, and had just found out we were expecting our first child on the day I walked into the newsroom blocks from the White House moments before the first plane struck the World Trade Center. I saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon from our balcony as I smoked a cigarette. We worked all day and into the night in a daze. Everything had changed.
I had to walk home that night. Through roadblocks and flares. The National Guard was mobilized and there were military roadblocks and checkpoints with armored vehicles on every intersection. They had live rounds. The police state was in effect. We used to sit on the steps of the United States capitol and watch the sun set, but after that day, the symbol of freedom closed and remains closed to this day.
And it didn’t change. In the days that went on, I watched a fearful nation give into their fear while calling themselves exceptional. In the months that passed, I heard the drums beating for war. I watched an angry nation cross to the dark side and deploy their armed forces overseas, committing acts of war instead of police actions. I didn’t see our freedom erode, I saw us give it away willingly in exchange for false courage, hollow reassurances of our might and heroism and exceptionalism. I saw us become increasingly jingoistic and nationalistic and shun the well wishes and empathy of the world.
I watched us all become victims – of ourselves. Our president didn’t ask us to sacrifice or come together, he asked us to keep buying things to keep the economy moving. Our first priority was to restore Wall Street and get the markets opened again so business could keep chugging along. We gave the executive branch a blank check and we opened up a phase of war that hasn’t ended. Even though we weren’t attacked by a sovereign nation that we couldn’t declare war upon. I saw a terror alert color scale get used like puppet strings for years to jerk the American nation around. I watched trillions of dollars in debt finance the destruction and then rebuilding of the things we destroyed while government contractors grew wealthy. I saw a department of homeland security grow, and feared we had created our own gestapo.
By comparison, the response to the military attacks against Pearl Harbor was to build and manufacture and come together in most concerted effort the American nation has ever seen. We bought war bonds. Instead of singing on the capitol steps, our legislators worked together and acted as the constitution guides them, declaring war and passing budgets and bills to unite the nation and fight the enemy. The only thing we had to fear was fear itself. We forgot that after 9/11
You are not a victim of terror from a foreign terrorist, you are a victim if you allow people in your own country to make the attacks of September 11 an opportunity. If you succumbed to your fear and grief and supported decisions that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and cost your nation trillions of dollars in debt in inappropriate responses, you were a victim. If you willingly accepted the sacrifice of your openness and freedoms to give in to a police state, even though the soldiers aren’t on the streets anymore and can’t be seen, you were a victim.
But it is never too late. Admitting it is the first step. Then resolve to do something about it. Honor those who died and lost by looking yourself in the mirror today and saying, “I will not be a victim.” Do it again tomorrow. Do it every day after. After you bow your heads to remember our loss, hold your head up high and fight for the dream that is America. Open, fearless, accepting, tolerant, welcoming… an inspiration to be emulated, not a fearful and greedy bully.