A Look Back at 9/11 and the 20 Years That Followed

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NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 11 2013: amid heightened security, family members, survivors & first responders gathered at Ground Zero to pay their respects to the fallen September 11 2013 in New York City

It started as most days back then, my husband up early and on the road to his office while I scrambled to get our (then) 13 year old on the school bus, my stock send-off, “Have a good day; be a good boy,” following him down the sidewalk. It was a crisp Minnesota morning, cool but sunny. Summer lingered; but autumn was definitely in the air.

It was Sept. 11, 2001.

You never know in those parts when winter will arrive, or with how much vengeance. It came early that year, blowing in from the East Coast unmercifully, leaving two decades of dust, debris, and death in its path.

On that fateful morning, the household again quiet, I indulged in post-chaos relaxation, sipping coffee and playing computer games, the TV on in the background. Then the unfathomable, the falling ash and shreds of paper, the smoldering Pentagon, the scorched Pennsylvania countryside. I wept inconsolably.

The winter of 2001 seemed especially harsh after the attacks and, along with the snow, an uneasiness blanketed the landscape. But for a brief time, we lived up to our country’s motto, “e pluribus unum,” and became one from the many.

In one day, a moment really, our nation united in grief. There were no red states or blue states, just purple states, bruised and anguished. The world felt our pain. “We are all Americans now,” they proclaimed.

It didn’t last, of course. A complete failure of American leadership starting in the Oval Office rewarded Osama bin Laden and his cowardly cohorts with exactly what they wanted: a disproportionate response, chaos, confusion, rabid xenophobia — a divided nation.

Naked corruption at the highest levels lead to needless conflict: There were no weapons of mass destruction; there was no possibility of ever *winning* in Afghanistan. The GOP has never had to answer for these truths or for the lies they told us on the march to war.

Instead, Republicans and their media apparatchiks at Fox News and elsewhere continue to sow the seeds of discontent. To the anti-Muslim sentiment which arose from the ashes at Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, and in the nation’s capital, we have now added a resurgence in bold, blatant racism and an uptick in hate crimes.

To these we’ve added attacks on women’s reproductive rights, along with a near-complete denial of science among millions of Americans as we battle a deadly pandemic.

An authoritarian strain now punctuates this toxic mix, and a new date of infamy joins our calendar: Jan. 6,  2021. In many ways, we’re still surveying the political damage and dysfunction which emerged from the events two decades ago. And apparently we’ll continue to need to do so.

Twenty years and two wars later — after torture, rendition, indefinite detention; after Abu Ghraib and Gitmo; after Bush and Baghdad and Bagram; after Trump and traitors and treason — a cold shoulder replaces the international embrace the U.S. once enjoyed; and we trudge along aimlessly, determined, on an inexorable march of madness, stoic in our winter of discontent, the blue and sunny skies of a September morning long since evaporated — eviscerated now.

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Tilsen is a retired journalist whose 20-plus-year career included covering local politics and courts in her former home state of Minnesota. She has written for The Associated Press, Reuters, two newspapers and three television stations and is the recipient of four first-place reporting awards. She resides with her husband and mother in Cape Girardeau, MO, where she is a volunteer with the local Humane Society.

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