David Hoppe

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:: Another 9/11

by David Hoppe

I registered today for a drawing for Cubs playoff tickets.

Weird that this also turns out to be the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

Life goes on, I guess.

I remember attending a dinner with a group of men on a November night in 2001. These guys met on a regular basis; I was an invited guest. The conversation was high-spirited throughout the evening, but when it came time for after dinner drinks, a moody quiet enveloped the table. Finally, one man spoke up, asking, “How many here think what happened on 9/11 has changed everything?”

Everyone sitting there raised a hand.

I must confess that this surprised me. I knew, of course, that the impact of what happened that day was — and would be — profound. But on some level I guess I was also counting on what I took to be our country’s resiliency (some have called it cultural amnesia). I figured we would get up, dust ourselves off, make somebody pay for what had happened, and get on with things.

What I didn’t see coming was how a blockbuster crime would become a chronic, self-inflicted wound.

I didn’t see our government effectively declaring war — not on a country, but on terror, an idea as timeless and as impossible to legislate as its opposite, joy.

And since I had grown up in the wake of World War II, in a community where virtually every Dad had played a part in defeating forces of previously unimaginable darkness, I thought I understood the pride our country took in its military might.

What I didn’t see coming was the extent to which the military would become our country’s most important product, driving our economy, skewing our social priorities, recasting our understanding of national identity.

I also failed to appreciate how compatible a so-called war on terror would be with the burgeoning network of digital social media. It turns out everyone being connected is a paranoid security state’s dream come true.

Most of all, I failed to comprehend the fear. America, I used to think, could be many things: Generous, arrogant, optimistic, boastful, irrepressible, naïve. But fearful? I never figured that was part of our fiber. If anything, this was a country too quick to throw caution to the wind, to bounce back, and like the old song said: “forget your troubles, c’mon, get happy.”

Some, Europeans, for example, considered that lack of reflection a national character flaw.

But after 9/11, people started bidding each other farewell by saying, “Be safe.” We began worrying about crowds, the weather, our food supply. Not, it must be said, without reason. It’s just that instead of trying to solve these problems, many of us seem to have taken them for signs, portents of a deeper reckoning yet to come.

So I registered today for Cubs playoff tickets. This year’s team has been amazing — young, enthusiastic, improbably good. They have exceeded everyone’s expectations to such a degree it hardly matters what happens next. Life goes on. Really. It does.