This article continues our remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. This article was written for the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
9/11 changed nothing.
Before you get up in arms about all the death and stress America experienced at the withered hands of Osama bin Laden, let me deconstruct that statement. Hang with me for a few minutes.
Terrorists want to be like a vindictive ex-spouse. They want to rip you from your nice home and force you to live in a roach-infested trailer park. They want to take all your money from you -- forever -- and find new ways to make your life miserable. They want you to suffer. They want to deny you access to your kids, and yet suck you dry of both spirit and joy. They want to knock you down several pegs and prove, not only to the world, but to you, yourself, that you're not the person you thought you were.
The 9/11 terrorists wanted to destroy America and all it stands for. They didn't.
Instead, Al Queda was a lot more like an annoying ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. Sure, they caused us some stress. It's as if, in a hissy-fit, they busted your windshield, refused to return your toothbrush, and made some crank calls to your boss. Annoying, but not devastating.
People died in the events of September 11. We should never forget what they and their families lost. It was a terrible, horrifying event.
But it did not break us.
Sure, it set us back for half a year or so. Sometimes, break-ups or other difficult life events can have that effect, too. But we moved on. And sure, we're pretty scrod, financially, morally, and ethically -- and we have a pretty crappy reputation worldwide.
But terrorism can't take credit for that. Terrorism can't take credit for our poor economic condition. Terrorism can't take credit for the housing crisis. Terrorism can't even take credit for our high unemployment numbers.
With the exception of the devastating loss of the unfortunate loved ones who died as a result of the attacks, terrorism can't take credit for any fundamental change in American life.
While some Americans have had difficult lives these last years, some of us did okay. Speaking personally, although I've gone through a couple of really rough patches, I've had a relatively decent life in this post-9/11 world. I've experienced positive growth, both personally and professionally. I got married to a wonderful woman. I feel privileged to be able to blog here on ZDNet. I am grateful for the good things in my life.
I'm not alone. Yes, many Americans have had it tough, but it's also true that millions and millions of Americans have had good lives these last ten years. Millions upon millions of Americans have had great lives these last ten years. That's despite Al Queda, despite Osama bin Laden, and even despite our own politicians.
America has done quite well these years, as well. Despite our economic troubles and the longest (and most ill-advised) war in American history, we still flourished. We saw the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the transformative nature of smartphones, the growth of broadband, and the instant, international connections made possible by the Internet.
Watch a movie about contemporary America from the year 2000 and another from 2011, and you'll see subtle, but powerful changes, many of them for the better.
Some might say that America is a shadow of its former self, but we're always a shadow of our former self. We're always slightly embarrassing. Heck, one of our most popular exports, loved the world over, is a brown, carbonated beverage that has no redeeming reason for existing.
America is, to some degree, a silly nation.
We still argue over evolution, intelligent design, or the idea that some magical being waved his arms and created heaven and Earth. We still argue over whether or not people should be allowed to use the word "married" if both members of a couple have male or female genitalia. We still argue whether a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body if she gets pregnant.
We are a silly nation. We care more about who is on American Idol than we do about the contents of legislation that'll change our lives. More people know the names Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton than know the names Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayer (sigh, they're Supreme Court justices).
We are a silly nation. We created Facebook, and worse, love it so much that it thrived. We want to know about who's dating our ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends and whether or not the prom queen from our old high school has gotten fat yet (that bitch!). We care more about petty gossip than we do about learning the fundamentals of science or mathematics.
We are a silly nation. We invent wonderful toys like iPhones and iPads, but give up our manufacturing power to our biggest frenemies. Instead of pouring in sand at one end of a plant in Fremont, California and getting iPhones out at the other end (and employing thousands of Americans in the process), we send many of our manufacturing jobs to China, India, and anywhere else we can find laborers willing to work for less money than Americans need.
And yet, we are also an amazing nation. Despite all our flaws (and there are many), America is still the world's role model. Sure, whenever we do something profoundly stupid, we lose some credibility across the planet, but we also always inspire.
America has heart, it has spirit, it has inventiveness, it has drive, it has purpose, it has resiliency, it has soul.
Part of what makes America great is that we can be both a very silly nation and a wonderful one at the same time. We have the internal design flexibility to allow the stupidity of our politicians (and their wildly divided and vaguely irrational supporters) and, yet, at the very same time, keep on keepin' on.
Even though 9/11 shook us up, America is still here, it is still strong, it is still silly, and it is still inspirational.
Sorry, terrorists. 9/11 didn't change anything. The game is still our own, to win or to lose.
Read the rest of the 9/11 Diary series:
- It's been ten years since that morning (9/11 Diary)
- The day the planes hit
- The morning after
- Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
- Still processing after all these days
- Keeping calm. Keeping sane.
- Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (this article)
- How 9/11 Changed My IT Consulting Career
- 9/11, social media and viral news
- How Mumbaikars used Twitter and Google to coordinate help during the terrorist attack
- Can a cyber-attack really be considered an ‘act of war’?
- Special Report: September 11: Ten years after
During our 9/11 retrospective coverage, I invite you to post your thoughts and remembrances, but I also request you remain respectful and polite. This isn't just a story of politics. This is a story of real people, their families, and their loss. Courtesy is demanded at a time like this. Thanks!