Fifteen years is a long, long time.
Fifteen years ago, I was still in school. I was still just a kid, for whom college and adulthood were but a distant worry, nothing to be concerned about. Politics was just one of those things I saw on Sunday morning talk shows. The world was still full of dreams and the future was bright.
That morning, I was in social studies, doing an activity of some sort; I hardly remember what it is and it wasn’t important in the long run. That’s when the announcement came over the PA, instructing teachers not to turn on their televisions. Naturally, this was the dumbest thing administration could have done, because within seconds, ours was on to ABC, and the images of the burning towers. We weren’t sure what was happening, as pretty much everyone else in the world was at that moment, so we tried to get on with it, casting hesitant glances at the news. Twenty minutes later, the signal was cut.
I’ve always been conflicted on that decision. On the one hand, I could understand. In a school of ~1500 students, many of whom had parents working in and around New York City, there is good reason to try and restrain fear. On the other hand, we were blind for the rest of the day. We knew planes had hit and the towers burned, but we learned nothing more until after school.
That was when I learned the horrible truth. The towers had fallen. All of the World Trade Center was gone, buried under a pile of twisted metal and dust and ash. The Pentagon had been hit as well as a crashed plane in my own state. I heard the possible death tolls rise over five thousand. I watched Peter Jennings, a man I had considerable respect for, fail to hold together.
In a world where war was a distant echo from places like Israel and Kosovo, harsh reality exploded into my mind. It struck in a place that I had visited not even five years before, a place that marked a skyline burned into my memory from childhood.
In an instant, the world had changed.
The myth of human progress: until recently, it was a concept I understood to which could give no name. The myth asserts the idea that humanity is “progressing.” It is the idea that the progression of technology and morality will lead to a better, brighter future without war and conflict. The myth first appeared in the early 20th century. The invention of motorized land and air travel, the proliferation of electricity, the dawn of modern medicine had all led to an atmosphere of the unstoppable force of mankind.
World War I shattered this perception. Humanity’s progress didn’t only make life better; it made it many times easier to end those lives. And so in a crucible of blood and suffering, the myth suffered its first death.
It would not be resurrected again until the end of the century. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dawn of the Information Age, humanity seemed set on the path of uninterrupted progress once again. And once again, the myth was shattered. Once again, we learned the hard way that not everyone in the world believes in a freer, safer world.
But this time, rather than being changed, people grabbed up the shards and tried to pretend that progress was unabated. They tried to pretend that the world wasn’t as dangerous as it always had been, the goals of all humanity were aligned together. Those that had taken the attack as a wake-up call were opposed to those who had not.
And so I have watched the world crumble ever since. Where once there had been unity, the world was slowly consumed by division and hatred. The love borne out of shared grief, love that once brought us together, wasted away. Maybe the terrorists won after all. Rather than focusing on tearing them apart, we tear each other apart. Now we are divided in every sense of the word, even to the point where we cannot agree there is an enemy to fight at all.
So, on this day, the fifteenth anniversary of the attack that changed everything, my heart is grieved. Not only for the lives lost on the day, but for the world that this day birthed.