Everyone, regardless of where they were, has a story to tell of 9/11. Only what’s left of the Greatest Generation remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor and their Baby Boomer children remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK. Nine eleven took the horror of those days and magnified them. Tom Brokaw has said that if the turbulent ‘60s were the death of American innocence, 9/11 shattered our security as a nation.
Usually I have the radio on 24/7, but for some reason that day I hadn’t turned on the one in our bathroom when I got out of the shower. It wasn’t until I got into the car to drive to my job at Gig Harbor High School that I heard something about a plane or planes having flown into the World Trade Center in New York. When I reached the Special Education classroom I worked in the other staff members had the television on and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but my first thought was Osama Bin Laden. No other person or group was as malevolent as his. Many Americans were oblivious to Bin Laden, but he had instantly become a household name that made the Ayatollah Khomeini look benevolent.
My second thought was that there might be a reaction to Americans of Middle Eastern heritage similar to what happened to Japanese Americans following December 7th, 1941. I had a personal reason to fear that. My youngest, who was just beginning his senior year in high school, is the son of an Iranian-American. It wasn’t the first time I’d feared for his safety, but previously I’d feared his abduction to Iran as a small child. I had sought the help of the US government then. Now I was worried about what the government would do to Americans of Middle Eastern decent. What other Americans would do. Osama Bin Laden was not Iranian, but there was plenty of prejudice against Iranian Americans (and even Hispanic Americans) during the hostage crisis. Americans have difficulty differentiating between Arabs and Persians.
Recently, when he was home from college my husband and I asked Nadir if he felt that he’d ever been hassled while going through security during his twice yearly trips from California. He said that he hadn’t. I’m not altogether sure he’d tell us if he were. My boys tend to keep Mama Bear in the dark where any sort of insult is concerned. Nadir has complained of discrimination when looking for a job and I am sure TSA takes a really good look at his ID and American passport with his very Persian name.
Fortunately the government seems to have learned from their appalling error in systematically rounding up Japanese Americans and putting them in concentration camps. Had anything similar been attempted with Middle Eastern Americans, his father, my husband, and I were prepared to find a way to get Nadir into Canada.
As a child I had lived in complete belief that the grown-ups would destroy the world in a nuclear war. Even as an adult I believed that as long as there were nuclear weapons, someone, sometime would use one or more. The fall of the Soviet Union lulled me into a false sense of security. Not since the Civil War had a war been fought on American soil—other than the attack on Hawaii which was not yet a state—and I felt safe. We were far from the crazies. Turns out that they were already here.
The intervening years since 9/11 and the death of Osama Bin Laden (a Seal Team Six bumper sticker is on my car) has done little ease my fears. Now we know how vulnerable we care. Now I have grandchildren born into a very different America where we may not fear a nuclear missile strike, but a dirty bomb in a suitcase is a real cause for concern. Nine eleven did not make a hawk or a conservative of me. If we become paranoid, prejudiced and jingoist, the terrorists win. We cannot condemn people of any faith, creed or ethnicity. We cannot let our fear erode the freedoms upon which this country was built. Our diversity should be our strength.