As the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11 approaches,
commentator Larry Doane has been thinking about human nature – and the
nature of change.
(DOANE) I spent the morning of September 11,
2001, blissfully working away in a chemistry lab at St. Michael’s
College. The lab was tucked away in a corner of the campus, and without
access to the media it would be hours before I eventually became aware
of the attacks on our country. So I spent the morning mixing beakers of
this and that, completely ignorant of the events of the day. And while
that would eventually change, for a few scant hours that morning I
floated along, blind to the tempest that would soon surround me.
was unaware of many things, tinkering away in that chem. lab. Unaware
that both of my sisters, one living in Manhattan and the other in DC,
were enduring these life changing events. Unaware that soon my hands
would not be holding test tubes but, rather, a rifle and a radio. We
were all unaware of many things that morning, both as a country and as
individuals. And I returned home from the lab that day listening to a
CD, and not the radio, still unaware in my bubble of ignorance.
I arrived home and heard the dozens of phone messages from both my
mother and my military unit, that bubble quickly popped. Turning on the
television, hours into the attacks, I felt the world change underneath
my feet. I ran upstairs and shed my clothes, along with my remaining
bliss and ignorance, and put on my uniform. I returned to campus and
walked to my advisor’s office. I told her that I was reporting to my
National Guard unit and wasn’t sure when I would be back in class. She
nodded and I strode out, scarcely noting my camouflage reflection in the
chemistry lab door.
A decade gone and two wars later I find
myself dramatically different from the person I thought I’d become. I,
of course, returned to school following that September morning. ROTC
cadets aren’t much use to anyone without a degree and significant
training. And early in my career I naively worried about the wars ending
before I got my turn. That would not be a problem. But it’s not my
military career that turned out so differently from what I imagined. In
what certainly gets filed under unintended consequences, the events of
9/11 caused me to interact with far more Muslims than I ever imagined.
And my trips to Afghanistan, Africa and Iraq all taught me the same
thing. We are all far more alike than we realize, or want to admit.
our enemies are far more similar to us than you’d think. Our desires,
while disparate in expression, are fundamentally the same as theirs. We
all want security for ourselves and our families. We view threats to
our way of life with suspicion and hostility. We all, friend and enemy
alike, are frustrated by our perceptions of injustice and threaten to
boil over with rage. Perhaps that’s why extremism troubles us so. We
peer through the looking glass at our foe and see not an unrecognizable
alien, but, instead, a twisted reflection of ourselves.