Eight years ago today, I was a high-school senior finishing up his second-period math class when one of my school’s headmasters made the announcement that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Like most everyone alive on that day, I will forever remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about the 9/11 attacks. But the tragedy of September 11 also had a profound impact on my life from that point forward. 9/11 marks the day the innocence of my childhood ended and my obsession with NPR, world affairs, and all things news began.
Prior to 9/11, I was your typical carefree teenager. I was looking forward to finishing my senior year of high school, excitedly looking towards college and the new possibilities such an experience would bring. I had no concern for world affairs, no interest in reading a newspaper, and frankly couldn’t care what happened around me as long as I was still free to do as I pleased. I was living the typical, self-absorbed life of a teenager, unaware of and unconcerned with the larger political and security issues facing the US and the world. The thought of listening to NPR was so foreign to me that I didn’t even know what frequency on the radio spectrum such programing occupied. If it wasn’t a radio station playing the pop music of the day, I was uninterested. Yet on that tragic day, everything I was concerned with and cared about changed.
As anyone who was near a computer that day will remember, the internet as an information source was fairly useless. Due to the shear volume of people trying to get to sites like CNN, Yahoo News, and the like, internet traffic crawled to a stop. Television, if one had access to it, and radio were the only viable mediums to satisfy the nation’s restless curiosity. And it was the later of the two that I embraced wholeheartedly. At the time, only a select few classrooms at my high school had televisions permanently installed, and those that did were quickly overrun by curious and concerned students, teachers, and administrators. Luckily for me, my third-period classroom had a radio that was perpetually tuned to an NPR affiliate that normally played classical music throughout the day. On that day, however, Bob Edwards’ baritone voice was the only sound being emitted by that receiver. In the first few hours of the tragedy, when the nation and I sought some comfort and explanation, Mr. Edwards provided the nearest semblance of such that one could hope for. It was his calm and steady demeanor in the face of overwhelming horror that brought some sense that we would survive the events of that day, that life would go on, and that the nation would recover from such unthinkable violence. For me and most other Americans who were old enough to understand what was happening though, life would never be the same.
When I look back and reflect on how much has changed in the last eight years, I am most struck not by how much the government has changed in response to the 9/11 attacks, but by how much the attacks refocused my attention. Suddenly, I became aware of the world outside of the United States. I could no longer contently sit back and enjoy the benefits of being a US citizen while turning a blind eye to what was happening around the world. I began voraciously listening to NPR and, for the first time, wanted to read a newspaper. I began, and to this day continue, to seek out detailed accounts and analysis of world events, always concerned with how such things will impact the United States. Suddenly, I realized the weight of responsibility associated with being the world’s last remaining superpower, and the inherent dangers such a position brought (and still brings) with it. No longer were we safe simply because we were the United States. Now we had to consider the positions and interests of the smaller, less powerful members of the world community, because it was from these nations that the terrorists drew their strength and in those far-flung places that plots such as the 9/11 attacks were planned.
On this eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, as I listen back to NPR’s account of that day, I am reminded of how wide-ranging the effects of that day have been in my life and for my world view, and how the nation was forever changed by 19 terrorists with four hijacked planes.