Alex Miller: Sept. 12 in Summit County
Summit County, CO Colorado
If September 11 was the initial state of shock, then the 12th and the weeks following was when we came out of it enough to ponder the prognosis. It was somewhere between “we’re doomed to constant attacks” and “we will all pull together as a country and get through this thing.”
Well, neither of those things really happened, and seven years later, it’s hard to say what lessons we learned that day when, we were later told, “everything changed.”
Did it? Well, those handy restrooms at the Eisenhower Tunnel got closed to the public, which was annoying. Air travel became more of a hassle. And even though we sort of understand the notion of closing the barn door after the horses are gone, does anyone really believe terrorists would try planes again? Well, maybe, and better safe than sorry so … take your shoes off.
Locally, we experienced a quintessential example of a supremely delayed reaction: Seven years after the attacks of 2001, Denver Water mysteriously decided to close the Dam Road for fear al-Qaeda (or someone) was going to target the dam.
It’d be funny if it wasn’t so stupid. Watching local cops spending their entire day monitoring traffic on the Dam Road, I can only wonder how many dollars in traffic-ticket revenue are being lost in the mythical quest to stop the Dam Bomber. Attending a soccer game the other day in the fields below the dam, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of the gendarmerie. Isn’t the base of the thing the more vulnerable spot? Not that I’m trying to give Denver Water any ideas about closing down our ball fields, but still ….
Strategically, it would make sense for al-Qaeda to shift its focus from big targets like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to rural America. If we were freaked out by the targeting of stockbrokers and military personnel on 9/11, imagine how we’d feel if the next wave was aimed at a small farming town in Iowa, a cider factory in northern Vermont, a ski area in the West. Despite all our efforts to defend against future attacks, it seems to me that if someone really wanted to do some small-scale stuff like this, it wouldn’t be that hard. After all, as millions of Mexicans have proven, our border isn’t exactly airtight.
I watched the World Trade Center go up ” and I watched it go down. Growing up on Long Island in the late 60s and 70s, trips into Manhattan were always marked by observing progress on the towers. Groundbreaking for the project was in 1966, when I was 2 (OK, I don’t remember it), and the towers were completed in 1970 and 1972, respectively. As a kid, it seemed like they would just always be under construction. As an adult, watching them be destroyed utterly in a single day was as sobering an experience as I’m ever likely to have.
Today, we think of 9/11 as we contemplate who will be our next president. Who, we wonder, will best be prepared to protect us from such threats in the future? Given the nature of terrorism, our open border and the unlimited range of evil imagination, it’s entirely possible that the answer is, simply: neither. On the other hand, it seems clear that working toward a world where those who would perpetrate such acts are marginalized and stripped of working capital (read: alternative energy) is a better way of preventing future attacks. Mobilizing military forces after an attack is a zero-sum game, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, since the very act of eliminating enemies is highly effective at creating new ones.
Perhaps it all boils down to who will be proactive versus reactive. On this Sept. 12, it’s a good time to look past who insulted whom or flip-flopped on this or that and examine at least one hard, issue-based question. On Nov. 5 we’ll find out if we’re ready to try something new or continue chasing ghosts ” be they in Baghdad or on Dillon Reservoir.
Alex Miller is the editor of the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at 668-4618, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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