On September 11, 2001 I was at work. Hearing excited voices I went to the kitchen where the TV showing the scene of the Twin Towers smoking and soon to fall. The emotions of my fellow workers was astonishment and horror. As the second airliner plowed into the buildings I cannot remember feeling anything out of the ordinary.
My own mind was going back to my arrival in Vietnam in 2/1968. The TET offensive by the Viet Cong (many NVA also) had swept South Vietnam and the huge resulting fight to trap and kill them left most of the cities and towns severely damaged and burning.
The shot-up, bombed-out buildings; the furious fighting and continuous rolling sound of battle; and, mostly to me, the piles of dead VC stacked along the roads made a huge impression on my new-to-war mind. I hope to never see that situation again.
But with my mind comparing that old memory with what was occurring on the television, I could not help but think two large buildings was not that big a deal. I was so ashamed of that thought I never mentioned it. Yet, it never left me.
I hate that all those people died. I have compassion for all their families. I suppose that it was the Civil War when wide spread devastation due to warfare last visited our country. All the many wars since we have sent off our boys to fight…many returned and a few did not rejoin their families. We grieved and moved-on as a people. But our country was largely untouched.
My horrible thought at the time was that the world has suffered and it must visit our shores eventually. These two buildings in a city of thousands of buildings and millions of people in a huge prosperous land just did not seem that much. I am ashamed of that thought but I will not apologize for it.
My hope was that the country would improve it’s vast resources it already possessed in preventing such disasters in the future. But, true to bureaucratic concepts, it’s only response was to add huge new layers of uncontrollable agencies, spent inconceivable new sums of money, tell innumerable lies to the people, seek and receive erosions to our liberties, freedom and privacy, and eventually accomplish nothing.
The US Army is viewed as one of the most controlling environments in which an individual might find themselves. Yet here is the underlying truth. At some time in your war time experience, most troops find the entire war reduced to your own personal battle against your own private (at that moment in time) enemy.
This moment is likely the most dangerous moment of your life. At the same time it is a shining moment of freedom. For you and you alone determine your fate. Kill or be killed. The Army prepares each of it’s soldiers for this moment knowing, like a parent, that it must trust to the training and experience given to carry that soldier through the experience.
Knowing and understanding that freedom I was astonished when my government moved in a completely polar opposite direction. Instead of trusting, encouraging and bolstering that individual freedom, they placed their trust in the bureaucracy and deserted the individual. I was even more staggered that the American people approved and embraced that approach. I have always considered yielding freedom for security to be completely Un-American and a sign of ultimate cowardice.
In line with that last thought I have wondered many times if Osama Bin Laden truly understood the huge loss he inflicted upon us. Loss of life and property in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania was horrible. The loss of freedom is tantamount to the loss of our country and way of life. And, that makes me very very sad.