September 11, 2001, was just another school day for me. I was in Japan, 14 hours ahead of the US, so the WTC attacks happened close to 10 at night my time, and I, a high school freshman, was already in bed. I started Wednesday morning like any other day - by rolling over on my futon and turning on the Armed Forces Radio Network morning show. I was still pretty groggy, so it took me a bit to realize that I wasn’t hearing the usual banter between the airmen-first-class and the chief-petty-officer morning DJs. In fact, the announcer dude sounded pretty serious. Something about a high state of alert and possible terrorist attacks. Probably some dude in a foreign country blew himself up again, I thought, and hence the military was all paranoid. Then I heard the magic words - “Due to safety concerns, all Department of Defense and international schools are closed until further notice.” Yessssssss. I clicked off the radio.
That’s when my mom walked in. I failed to notice the grave look on her face. “School’s closed, Mom. Sweet.”
“No, it’s not good. Come watch the TV.”
Man, there’s nothing worse then getting a day off of school only to have your parents plan it out for you. At least Mom seemed significantly perturbed, so maybe something exciting was on TV.
Most of the rest of the day was spent watching planes hit buildings and fields, and dust clouds envelop lower Manhattan. All of that made for compelling television programming, though nobody knew anything about what was happening. All I knew was that I didn’t have to go to school.
“Further notice” for my school turned out to be a day, so the next day was spent talking excitedly to classmates about what had happened, and asking if they knew anybody in NYC, and complaining that it wasn’t fair that we had to be back in school while the higher profile schools - schools like the American School in Japan (ASIJ) and the base high schools - were closed until further notice. After all, we were all in Japan, and nothing exciting or dangerous happens to foreigners in Japan. We all thought it was rather silly that ASIJ decided to paint over their school name on the sides of their entire school bus fleet for safety reasons. Was a bus full of diplomats’ kids (from a range of countries) really going to be a target in Japan? Better safe then sorry I guess, but we were still going to make fun of them for it.
The emotional element of the attacks was something rather removed for me. I didn’t have the sense that my “homeland” was under attack or that my freedoms were being encroached upon. I didn’t know anyone who lived or worked in Manhattan, the Pentagon, or the field in Pennsylvania. The only Arabs I knew were the illegal immigrants whom my dad befriended - Iranians, Pakistanis, Persians. They were nice people, even if they did hold a baseball bat like they were protecting a cricket wicket.
I wasn’t a patriot. I didn’t own an American flag or have a t-shirt emblazoned with an eagle. I had no gun rack. What did I have to be mad about? What had been taken from me? Sure, 3,000 people dying in an act of unmitigated aggression was 3,000 people too many, but how many was that in contrast to the hundreds of thousands dying in other countries from preventable causes? I rationalized because I didn’t know what to think. I should feel bad, right? I mean, I was American, right? Maybe, but not enough that the events had a remotely serious impact on me.
I don’t mean to sound cynical - what happened was terrible. I guess I want to voice that not everyone thinks that 9/11 was the worst thing to happen to the US in the last ten years. Not every American used it as an excuse to become more patriotic. For me it was much like any other day. Except I got to watch more TV.