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Post by Dylan Matthews, Campus Progress

The nation’s initial response to 9/11 was one that could have easily come from an eleven-year-old. Let’s hope we’ve moved beyond the need for war as a response to terrorism.

9-11 tribute

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. (Flickr/macten)

I was in my sixth grade newspaper class when I heard that a plane had hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the other tower that my middle school sent around notes to teachers telling them to make the announcement. One plane, I suppose they had reasoned, could have been an accident and perhaps not worth causing panic. Two was something altogether different. After a brief and, in retrospect, fairly odd warning from my teacher against assuming it was Muslim terrorists that were responsible, we flooded into the school library to watch madness unfold on the school’s 50-inch TV as Dan Rather informed us that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

Everyone one of us, old and young, has of these stories. For people my age—that is to say, those of us currently in college or late high school—the impression of that day has been particularly formative. Before that day, this country we lived in was not one that fought wars. We were barely sentient for the Gulf War, if alive at all. Our country was not one that was attacked on its own soil.

This was the first truly huge event of our lives, and its sheer scale overwhelmed all but the most immediate details. We were too overwhelmed to wonder or care whether al-Qaeda or Iraq or a Timothy McVeigh-like domestic terrorist had planned the act.

That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the American public, “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” My eleven-year-old self understood his logic and took the next step. Big acts, Bush was saying, necessitate big responses.

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