Sunday, September 10, 2006

How has your life been changed by 9/11?

Although my life is substantially different than it was on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, most of that has to do with career, economic, and financial considerations and very little, if anything at all, to do with the events of that day. In fact, if not for financial considerations, my life might be completely unchanged.

At the time, I was still living off the excess "wealth" I had accumulated during the tech "boom/bubble", fully expecting that if and when my money did run out, I would easily be able to continue to get more than enough software development consulting work to keep my bank account healthy. I used to tell people that I was "semi-retired", recognizing that soon enough I might need to return to work. I was very right about needing to return to work, albeit sooner than I expected, but very wrong about how easy it might be to find work, any work. But I don't blame 9/11 for either.

That being my situation, my first reaction to the attacks was to mentally visualize my "wealth" going up with the smoke of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Whether the events of that day actually affected my financial and career situation can be debated, but my presumption is that my situation was problematic regardless of what happened on 9/11.

At the time, I had an apartment in New York City, diagonally across the street from the UN and a second apartment in Washington, D.C., six blocks north of the White House. But for my financial situation, I'd still be there today.

I was already spending a fair amount of my time attending congressional hearings and discussions at DC think tanks on many topics, including foreign policy, security, and emerging threats. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on even before 9/11. I had been to any number of hearings and discussions about terrorism, emerging threats, biological and chemical weapons, Iraq, Iran, missile threats, nuclear proliferation, etc. All of this stuff was already in my life before 9/11, so the increased focus on some of these topics after 9/11 wasn't really much of a change for me.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 12, 2001 I was doing precisely what I had planned to do before the 9/11 attacks, which was attending a Senate hearing on protecting our critical infrastructure, which was so very timely given the attacks the day before, but which had been scheduled before 9/11. As chaotic as much of America was on the days immediately after 9/11, at least in my one little corner of Washington, it was business as usual.

Sure, there were plenty of security measures in place, especially around the White House, and National Airport was closed, and Lower Manhattan was a true disaster zone, but for me, life went on, with little change, other than anxiety about the stock market.

The events of 9/11 didn't even have much of an impact on my schedule or travel plans. My typical schedule was to spend a couple of weeks (ten days to three weeks) in DC, take the train to NYC to spend a couple of weeks there, and then back again. Without even thinking about it, I kept to that same schedule. That kept me in DC for about 10 days after 9/11 before I took the train to NYC.

My financial situation was of couple totally up in the air, but I managed to survive another two years before I hit the wall financially. I suppose I could blame my financial and work problems on 9/11, but I don't believe 9/11 was a significant factor.

On a positive note, being in both DC and NYC at that time gave me a better perspective on the reaction of our national government to the events of 9/11. Most people had to rely of TV and newspapers or the Internet, but I was right there and even got to talk with some of the participants, advisors, analysts, consultants, and the like. I wouldn't trade that experience for all the money in the world. And so many Americans have none of that background and struggle to make due with the bizarre TV and newspaper and magazine and Internet coverage, which is fraught with bias, misinformation, emotion-manipulating music and graphics, and overall a simple lack of reality.

I am sure that some of my positions on foreign policy have evolved over they past five years, but I do feel that a fair amount of my beliefs were formed in the years before 9/11 as I had spent much more of my time digging into what makes Washington tick.

I visited the Pentagon and World Trade Center areas many times in the months and even years after the attacks. It was comforting to see that real people were making real progress in recovering our infrastructure, despite all the negativity in the media. Never, not even once for a moment did I feel that my safety was at risk of another attack.

I was sitting in a Senate Office Building hearing room (Dirksen) shortly after 10:00 a.m. on 9/11 as the World Trade Center towers were collapsing and as the Pentagon was burning in the distance, but even then and ever since then I have not felt the need to fear another attack. Sure, maybe there will be another 9/11-class terrorist attack, but so many of us are far more likely to be harmed by accidents, drunk drivers, storms, engineering fiascos, bad judgment, etc. than to be harmed by a terrorist attack.

Sure, I still have to cope with so many extra security measures and we have the distraction of a "war" that has virtually nothing to do with the events of 9/11, but life does go on.

I can't and don't speak for any other American, but I can confidently say that 9/11 hasn't significantly changed my life. I gather that many people feel that it has changed their lives in a very deep and significant sense. I suspect that the change is more due to the simple fact that so many people didn't realize how dangerous a place the world was before the morning of 9/11.

I recognize that people who were in the Pentagon or Lower Manhattan will have every reason to feel directly impacted by a "brush with death", but I do not think it is reasonable to push all of that angst onto the backs of all of the rest of America (and the world) who deserve the right to live normal lives even if a few thousand people did suffer significantly in the attacks.

I vigorously disagree with those who promoted and continue to promote the idea that 9/11 was a "marker date", the date when "everything changed." Yes, if you or a family member, neighbor, friend, or colleague did have that "brush with death", 9/11 would likely be a life-changing event, but please stop trying to change the lives of others to be in sync with your own trauma.

It is time for all of us to move on. Bad things do happen in life to all of us, but after a period of mourning and coping, you simply have to pull yourself together and quite literally move on.

There actually is one aspect of my life that has been changed by 9/11: After seeing how unashamedly the media has exploited the events of 9/11 and the so-called "War on Terror" to their own financial advantage, I now have virtually no faith that the media can be expected to act in the best interests of citizens. So much of what gets passed as "news" and "analysis" is so clearly biased and so clearly aimed at manipulating opinions and emotions to the commercial advantage of these media "empires".

I personally can live without faith in "Big Media" since I do know how to read between the lines and filter the occasional fact from all of the pumped-up "story" and "docudrama", but I do worry about all of "the little people" who don't have better sources of information than network news, daily newspapers, and all of the other manipulative media. Maybe that is one way my life is changed: I wish there was something I could do for these people.

-- Jack Krupansky


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