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Sept. 11 – This generation’s Kennedy Assassination

It’s a pretty common question for most Generation X- and Y-ers: Where were you when the planes hit? Where were you when the towers fell?

And all of us have an answer. I was at college, sitting in my undergraduate Intro. to Journalism class, when another professor knocked on the door and told us something was happening. We all headed down the hall to the broadcast studio classroom and watched over the next forty-five minutes as the world changed.

When the towers crumpled to the ground, I don’t know if anyone could have predicted the result. I’m not sure anyone was aware of the fear or paranoia or outright hatred that would take root in the hearts of most Americans. Like just about everybody, I was holed up in my apartment, watching TV in horror, but unable to look away. I lived in Tampa at the time, a few miles from MacDill Air Force Base. It seemed anywhere could be a target. It felt like the whole country had a bulls’ eye on its back.

Of course, the planes crashing was just the beginning. We’d watch for days as firefighters and police officers dug through rubble and looked for survivors. We’d flip to news channels and see the president trying to offer condolences. We’d watch as they rebuilt the Pentagon, the headquarters of our country’s unparalleled military might, which now had a gaping hole in the side. We’d be inspired and saddened by the courage and heroism shown by passengers on the planes, by police officers and firefighters at the scene, by everyday New Yorkers walking around with their heads held high. We’d breathe a sigh of relief when things started to be normal again, even though we knew, normal no longer existed.

September 11, 2001 became Generation X and Ys Kennedy Assassination. My parents can still, in startling detail, describe to me where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. They can tell me how hopeless the country felt after JFK, who many believed would be the man to restore American’s faith in government, was shot down in a motorcade through Dallas. The death of one man in 1963 dealt a heavy blow to a disillusioned America, just as the death of thousands dealt a heavy blow on that September day. The difference is, our disillusionment came after, after there was a call to arms and hints of weapons of mass destruction and an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks.

Now, eight years later we’re still wondering what happened. Sure, we may know the names of the men who got on those planes with an intent to destroy America, and we may know who the ultimate mastermind is, but there’s still an air of disbelief–a feeling of “how did this happen to us”–that permeates most people’s thinking. And there’s a growing discontent over the war we declared on the entire Arab world before the dust had settled.

I would never advocate the U.S. in any way brought on those attacks. It’s simply not true. That kind of unmitigated violence has no place in modern civilization. The people that died that day and the days after and those men and women who have died overseas fighting a nebulous enemy are heroes to be honored and remembered and thanked for years to come.

But just as the resulting years of 1960 brought about an era of free love, hippies, drug experimentation and finally, our entry into another nebulous war, so has Sept. 11th brought about eight years of fear and finger-pointing and a mounting death toll. America’s gone off the rails and while we are on our way to correcting course, it will be a long, slow and painful process.

Because the memory of Sept. 11th will be with us forever and one day I’ll tell my children where I was when the towers fell–just as my mom told me where she was when JFK was killed.

It’s an interesting legacy we’re leaving our children. It’s an interesting footprint we’re leaving on history.

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