Sunday, September 10th, 2006
Five years ago today, Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, recorded by the chronicles as the final day in the life of a world that used to be and is no more:
On the eve of mayoral primaries, after eight years of Rudy Giuliani, a long-shot outsider named Michael Bloomberg appears to be picking up momentum with voters. The Yankees announce a new sports channel called YES. Israel is readying for another no doubt pointless round of truce talks with PLO chief Yasser Arafat. Education-minded President Bush is heading to Florida to read to schoolkids.
Five years ago today: We are not being searched in the subways. We are unalarmed by the sight of valises left on streetcorners. We are not asked to remove our shoes at airport security gates.
Our young men and women are not being blown up daily by roadside bombs in a land far away.
And 2,749 people who work at the World Trade Center or plan to be on airplanes in the morning go safely to their beds, for the last time.
Today, Sept. 10, 2006, these five years along, we remember that world that used to be as a dim and distant place. We were comfortable in that world, most of us; we were confident. "The morning coffee was still cooling," the Daily News wrote two days later, "when our grandest illusion was shattered."
TRIPLE ATTACKS ROCK THE NATION
DEBRIS AND DEATH ENVELOP DOWNTOWN
U.S. SET TO STRIKE BACK
"One day," said The News, "we will think back on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and remember in crystal detail what we were doing when the first plane crashed into the north tower at 8:45 a.m.
"And we will be amazed that we didn't think it possible before."
Now we are not so naive. Now the unthinkable is always with us, every moment of our lives. We have learned bitterly that pure malevolence roams much of the planet. And for that, we are a wiser and tougher people - and a people both unified and fractured.
Our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, they have gone to war now, to an epic clash of civilizations, to a battleground upon which is fought the future. Bravely they go, in the service of the higher ideal, volunteers all. We hail them. We mourn them.
But we have been humbled, and we know that. From an initially jubilant moment of payback in Afghanistan, we are increasingly grieved by one misstep and bumble and embarrassment after another. Our leaders too often frustrate us. Osama Bin Laden is still at large. There is no "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, far from peacefully settled. The sacred Ground Zero remains a wretched hole, with signs of progress only beginning there. It cannot be said that these have always been the most chest-thumpingly proud five years America has ever known.
It is true that, five years on, there has not been another attack on U.S. soil, and this is not entirely blind luck. Official vigilance has kept the wolves away. The NYPD in particular has done a terrific job. Still, Congress serves up anti-terror funding like so much pork. Video cameras are few and far between in the subways. Our ports are dangerously unpoliced. Border security is a national joke.
And we squander our energies in noisy debates over civil liberties, both those of enemy combatants and those of Americans. Some recoil more at the very idea of offending a captive terrorist's dignity - how perfectly awful of us - than at the prospect of an American city in a heap of smoking cinders. And, minds buried in the olden times before there was popularly known to be such a thing as Islamofascism, before it was understood that medieval barbarians intend to remake all the world as their own golden caliphate, some refuse to recognize that intrusions upon their own personal rights have, in fact, been quite minimal - and that, if and when the gangsters do succeed in striking again, government intrusions will become all the sterner.
If and when. If and when. It was only a few weeks ago that a fleet of bomb-laden jets might well have flown in from Britain.
One day, perhaps, we will look back upon a second 9/11 and remember in crystal detail what we were doing.
And we will be amazed that we allowed it to happen - for we knew full well what kind of new world it was that we were living in, after the old world was stolen from us, the world that still existed five years ago today.