Yahoo! is asking Americans how September 11 changed them. Below is an account from a reader.
It goes without saying that terror colors a culture. 9/11 breathed a certain darkness into the national mood. I still cannot wrap my mind around those acts - they remain unthinkable. There is a nightmarish feeling in any recollection of that cruelty. At the same time, I was heartened by the countless acts of selflessness. It seemed this mass mental illness was more than offset by the heroism of so many.
I am more patriotic than I was. We all are. We started displaying flags both at home and at work and even in our automobiles. We felt closer, more unified. People all around us poured into service - military and otherwise. Having been attacked and having shown our spirit, we were proud to be Americans.
But I am more jaded than I was about our government. I was saddened but not shocked at the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. Horrible, inexcusable things are done when people are under stress. But I was demoralized by the sanction of torture by our country, by Guantanamo, by the executive belief that we could defy the Geneva Convention. Although political parties have reshuffled, I remain a bit demoralized at how we acted in the aftermath of 9/11.
I hate to admit it; but I am less tolerant than I was. It was not the act itself; many groups have fanatics that commit heinous crimes. I was shocked when I personally heard gentle, moderate Muslims defend the terrorists. I was shocked at the lack of moderate Muslim outcry. I am puzzled. I do not yet understand. I believe that celebrating diversity is a critical part of human decency. But I believe I have moved more to a position of "tolerance" toward the Muslim faith, and away from a capacity to celebrate.
Before 9/11, it seemed remotely possible that America could be attacked. But it had never happened, so I maintained - like most of us - a false sense of invulnerability. Although I never put it into words, it almost seemed like we had a special providential protection. That changed with 9/11. I felt vulnerable. We had the daily color codes of national safety. We had the anthrax attacks, which could come to our very mailboxes. I even bought an inexpensive "emergency kit" when the Iraq war began, when it seemed possible that WMD could be unleashed.
Yet this sense of national vulnerability made me feel a part of the world. I could empathize with England, and Ireland, and their years of bombings. It suddenly did not seem so foreign and remote. The unthinkable horrors of suicide bombers in Middle East made me grieve, as someone who has a small bit of understanding. After 9/11, a French newspaper stated, "We are all Americans." After 911, for me, we were all part of the world.