I live in Toronto. A week after 9/11, I was worried about a long-planned family visit to Kentucky, driving with my 4-year old son. Transportation was a mess, there were hours long line-ups crossing the border in Detroit. I called the consulate, and asked if I was likely to have much difficulty entering at Lewiston, NY--just downstream from Niagara Falls. "I don't think so," the nice lady said. "If you have any problems, here's my name and a reference number. Have them call me." And in the event, there were two cars in the line ahead of us and we were on American soil within 5 minutes.
The drive was memorable, and striking. First of all, there was not a highway overpass in hundreds of miles that was not flying a flag, or many flags. Most cars and trucks were also flying flags. It was very much like London's response to the transit bombing..."we are not afraid" plus "we are proud, and we are together". The rest of the country even forgot how much they resent New York for a little while.
The second striking thing was the big burly highway reality of America on the move, carrying on its daily work. Huge trucks, brand new paint jobs, shiny air horns, breaking the speed limit. I thought, "we should just stick a bunch of those al-qaeda guys on a greyhound bus, drive 'em around the country, and turn 'em loose back to where they came from. They'd have to see that there's nothing they could do to bring this big engine down." I even wrote down my own version of an address to the nation--I can no longer find it--along the lines of "We mourn the dead and console their families and friends. Be assured that we will catch you and bring you to justice. But don't get the idea that you've accomplished anything."
Of course, that's not what was said, or done, except for the mourning and consoling. And now here we are, 9 years later, and it seems that we've only learned how to be less calm, less proud, less resilient, and more self-destructive.
Next, from a reader in the U.S., about how the drive for ever-greater security has curdled the American character, but also about what admirably remains:
I have.. carried the image of the US being an organism with an allergy: We are allergic to terrorism, and it stimulates our immune system into a self-destructive response. I continue to believe that we can learn a lot about ourselves sociologically if we view ourselves, collectively, as an organic whole. TSA represents an inflammation in our transport system. (Asthma?) What can we do to inoculate ourselves against this response?
2. At and after 9/11 (which I have never wanted it to be called!) some pundits (notably Thomas Friedman) called upon the moderate Muslims in the Middle East to denounce the extremists that were dancing in the street when the towers came down. It gives me some pride to live in a country where a nutcase can threaten to burn a Kuran; and the Secretary of Defense can call and ask him not to do it. Look at the layers of complexity and personal responsibility: No one is going to throw the "Pastor" in jail; he can do it if he likes. The Highest civilian administrator of the military personally REQUESTS him not to do so for the benefit of the troops. This is how nutcases and people of disparate views manage to live together. People talk about democracy being messy, and watch sausage being made. We decry the machinations of Congress. But I've never been prouder. What an example this sets: Even though it exposes our warts and our nutcases and our underwear to all of the world, we continue to function, we honor and respect the disparate rights of those involved, and, we hope, take another stagger toward a More Perfect Union. GBTUSA. And all the boiling frogs.