The Cold War had ended a decade before.
As had the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, the largest military deployment and combat operation since Vietnam.
The only world enemy was the Iraqi dictator, who barely clung to power.
We were a decade into the dawn of the Pax Americana, a time of tranquility after almost a century of conflict with two iterations of German imperialism, Japanese expansionism, and four decades of nuclear brinkmanship and conventional proxy warring with Russian Communism.
And then suddenly the world changed forever on the morning of September 11th.
It was a day seared into the minds of those old enough to grasp what happened that day and burned into the souls of millions of people in the New York City area and Washington Beltway who witnessed the devastation and endured the chaos and confusion that followed.
Islamist terrorists had attempted to gain America’s attention long before 9/11 through smaller scale plane hijackings and bombings, the latter mainly taking place overseas.
Though there was their first attempt to bring down the Twin Towers, attempting to do so 1993 via a massive truck bomb that claimed the lives of six people, including a woman who was seven months pregnant.
Americans for the most part were oblivious to the Islamist threat until al-Qaeda finally succeeded in landing the severe blow that they and their brother Muslim radicals had dreamed of connecting for decades.
It was a transformational strike that forced America to recognize that Islamist terrorism was not an abstract threat to the homeland and a real worry for those in the military or diplomatic corps stationed in sketchy corners of the globe.
September 11th changed society in many ways, from air travel to visiting government offices.
And for a little while, led to the shedding of political division that became intensified after the previous year’s contentious presidential election recount.
I’m not certain if that kind of national coalescence would be possible today even in the aftermath of a similar tragedy. Instead the professional dividers within the political class and radicalized establishment major media would obsess over won or lost advantages from a catastrophe.
Over the past twenty-four hours 9-11 related memes have flowed across social media breaking the multiple tragedies that occured that terrible day down into time stamps and a “September 10th” image about 2,977 people who went to bed the night before not realizing their time on Earth would suddenly end less than 24- hours later.
While casually shared through retweets and reposts, I believe those memes help communicate what happened 18 years ago to a generation that had not yet been born or were too young to comprehend the permanent traumatic alteration to the national psyche that occured.
They provide perspective to today’s college and high school students that is nigh impossible to grasp as they never felt the shock of the event in real-time.
I’ve watched the Zapruder film many times and have visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Oahu and have seen the oil sheen that continues to leak from the hull of the destroyed battleship that will forever be associated with the surprise Japanese attack that led to the entry of the United States into World War Two, but I know the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor as historic events not as events I felt.
There is one more 9-11 image that has circulated around Facebook, that of the man falling head first from the World Trade Center’s North Tower that had been identified as Jonathan Briley. In order to see this haunting image on the social media platform you have to “uncover” it due to the disturbing nature of the picture.
More than the explosions and even the collapse of the Twin Towers, the images of people falling to their deaths from the buildings truly hit the hardest. And thus all the more reason to not conceal out of reasons of sensitivity.
September 11th was a national gut punch and the sting of it should not be softened. Particularly as we remain locked in a war with an enemy that is relentless and wicked.