Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
West Lafayette, Indiana
Alexander Russell – a 22-year-old computer security developer – spent his childhood in various places throughout the Midwest. Today, he is a student at Purdue University in Indiana. His interests include Linux, open source software and DHTML, along with tennis, camping and hiking. On the morning of Sept. 11, Alex was sleeping in late before his math lecture. He started writing his essay Sept. 20 and finished Sept. 30.
I’m sure my Sept. 11th memory is like that of many other college students. I didn’t have class until late morning, so when my mom called asking, “Are you ok?” it not only scared me a little, it woke me up out of a sound sleep. After assuring her that I was indeed all right, she related what happened. My mind raced; could this be real? Walking into the next room and turning on the TV, I saw for myself the full horror of it. As the fresh ashen-gray images of stunned day traders and legal assistants projected from my roommate’s television, I knew that many things would not (and could not) be the same.
It started subtly at first, the perky morning news anchors were soon replaced with their visibly sleepy evening counterparts, and in the days following, talk of a “new kind of war” echoed from every media outlet. From fear to pain to outrage, America grieved for its lost and turned on those that murdered thousands of its own. The change was upon us.
Someone once said that 10% of life is what happens to you, 90% how you react to it. Our nation’s response to the stimulus of Sept. 11th has the power to define much more than whether or not we face terror attacks in the future (that we will is assured). The political good will and trust placed in our leaders would have been unthinkable only weeks before the 11th. Public outrage and the need to “do something” are powerful forces. Given a wide mandate, politicians who we now so implicitly trust may find themselves significantly impaired of judgment with regards to legislation marketed to “help counter terrorism” or “give us the tools to defeat terrorists.”
These trying circumstances require resolve and foresight among those holding office. For in our efforts to protect ourselves, can we be justified in undermining the same liberties our enemies would take from us by other means? We must, in this time, be wary that the vacuum of perspective created by unfamiliar surroundings does not become filled with the untested statements of those with axes to grind. In the end, the only guards against attacks upon our liberty are strength of will and informed decision-making. Ignorance and fear can destroy freedom, and the onus is now on Americans to resist these vices.
I do not suggest that as a nation we not act to protect the way of life we cherish. In fact, the crimes of Sept. 11th can only serve to prove that evil is in the world and that it must be combated. Instead, for our actions to be effective and lasting, I urge careful consideration of both the consequences of our actions as we move forward and the actions that have brought us to this point. Without such perspective, I do not have much hope that America can successfully resist those who would obscure its liberty. Foreign or domestic.