Remember? How Could I Forget?

Chad W. Lutz
(Google Images)
It was an April morning. The skies were hazy at the early onset but later gave way to blue. The energy was electric, positively charged with the anticipation of 27,000 runners. It was an ideal day to run. Then two bombs went off four hours into the race, and the bright, sunny disposition of the morning faded into the chaotic turmoil forever captured in bloody images shared through news and social media outlets around the world and the police pursuit of the suspects in the week following.

I was there that morning, still unbelievably so. It's the closest I've ever been to a moment measurable by text books, and it's the last time I hope to ever find myself that close to an event like that ever again in my life. But the keyword in the above statement is hope. I hope that never happens. May the powers at be forbid such a thing from ever occurring again. But the thing that worries me, as it worries so many other Americans in this post-9/11 world, is the unshakeable feeling that we haven't seen the worst, not even close.

In a poll recently taken on hstoday.com, 88% of respondents believed there would be more mass terrorist attacks attempted soon after the Boston bombing. A poll taken by Washington Post on April 23, 2013, roughly a week after the attacks compares the concern Americans have shown toward eminent terrorist threats since the late 1990s. In the poll, only 69% of respondents showed concern (somewhat or great) for possible attacks at time of polling. The current number starkly contrasts the September 11, 2001 figure of 87% greatly or somewhat concerned with the possibility of an attack. Based on the data, from April 1995 to April 2013, 76% of Americans displayed a somewhat or great concern for possible attacks. While the percentage of those concerned has significantly fallen over the last decade (by nearly 20%) over three-quarters of the U.S. considered the threat of terrorist attacks real or eminent. That's 235.4 million Americans out of a total population of 313.9 million.

Peculiarly enough, it appears that the Boston bombings, while tragic and horrific in their own right, failed to incite the same kind of stir as the September 11 attacks. Based on the Washington Post polls, Americans felt a greater sense of eminency of attack in September 2006, the five-year anniversary of 9/11 at just shy of 75%, than respondents did immediately following an actual attack this past April in Boston.

So it begs the question: Are we safer now or have people begun to learn to live with the threat of attack?

Tomorrow marks the 11-year anniversary of probably the most text-book measurable event of our generation. My parent's generation saw the assassination of a U.S. President. We saw the toppling of our financial infrastructure in the form of two iconic buildings and roughly 3,000 innocent lives, and along with it any blanket sense of security we might have used to curl up with at night. Much like the Boston bombings, it took a while to apprehend the primary suspects of 9/11, although sufficed to say on a much longer time table. But instead of a country living in fear with the notion the "bad men" were still out there, many people seemed to enjoy the pursuit of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In an article written April 21, 2013, by Uzma Kolsoy, reporter for The Atlantic, the author was quoted as calling the pursuit, "Nielsen Gold". According to an article posted April 22, 2013, on The Hollywood Reporter, the event was just that: over 40 million Americans tuned in to watch the conclusion of the events as they unfolded in Watertown, citing a near 120-percent increase in cable news viewership from the previous week.

Desensitized? You betcha. In the weeks following the Boston bombings my inboxes, of all varieties were flooding with reporters eagerly wanting to know, “my story”. I couldn’t go to the gym to swim a few laps without someone asking me unapologetically, “Were you there?” “Did you see anything?” Random strangers I’ve never met acting as if it’s alright to bluntly ask if I witnessed anyone being murdered right before my eyes less than a week after the fact. On those occasions I would smile and politely tell them my story anyway, or at least the abridged version, at any rate. Do I fault people for their curiosity? No. But I've always thought it odd; would you ask someone how their cancer is doing when it’s obvious things aren’t going so well? If you personally met someone who lived through 9/11, would you instantly jump into the subject of whether or not that person saw anything that fateful day? I’d say a good number of Americans, perhaps that 31% of participants polled in the recent Washington Post poll, seem pretty desensitized when it comes to terrorism. Would you force questions on witnesses of the Pearl Harbor bombings as to what they saw? On those who witnessed Kennedy’s assassination?
…and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.”
– Howard Beale (Peter Finch) Network 1976

The U.S. Government has taken numerous steps, both in and out of the public eye, to increase security measures and provide for more centralized and articulated national strategies in regards to terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Prior to September 11, 2001, the CIA and FBI worked independently on matters of domestic terrorist threats. Now, they work together. President Bush also created the Department of Homeland Security, which works in tandem with other security offices like the FBI, CIA, NSA, and INS. Total spending on defense and homeland security falls right around $7.6 trillion since September 11, 2001, according to NationalPriorities.org, with the Department of Homeland Security receiving $685 billion of that figure. In fact, since 2002, only one other federal program has received more funding than national defense; that program being Social Security.

Beyond the public eye, the military has been using unmanned drones to gather intelligence and cities throughout the country have installed millions of police-operated surveillance cameras. In August 2012, New York City debuted a citywide plan to install close to 3,000 surveillance cameras on busy street corners accessed by the police. The program, called Domain Awareness System, enables police to monitor all civilian activity through the closed-circuit network of cameras. In an August 8, 2012, article on The Raw Story by Agence France-Presse, Mayor Bloomberg is quoted as saying the system: "allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gather from existing cameras, 911 calls, previous crime reports, and other existing tools and technology." Many other cities, including Boston, are considering adding surveillance programs of their own. The debate has sparked controversy on both sides, with the opposition citing the infringement of 4th Amendment rights, which has been interpreted to bar the use of illegal or unauthorized means to search for or seize property, data, or persons.

In a 2012 Gallup poll preceding the Presidential election last year, more than half of Americans thought the federal government held too much power. A separate question in the same poll regarding whether the government was doing too much or too little showed 62% of Americans feeling there was too much government involvement in personal and domestic affairs.

It might surprise you to find Americans have experienced fewer attacks on diplomatic targets during the administrations of Clinton, George W., and Obama than the five previous administrations. The graph below denotes a key marked declination in attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets in the second year of Clinton’s first term. The period of time Americans experienced the least number of attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets was in the last year of Clinton’s final term as President of the United States.
(Google Images)
The question of whether or not Americans are safer since 9-11 primarily proofs in the pudding. Heading into tomorrow's contest (and let's face it - in this day and age - every day is a gambit) America has sustained 20 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. Some, like the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 and the recent Boston Marathon bombing have held significant casualty and fatality counts. Others have yielded property destruction but no physical harm to persons, citizens or otherwise. Numerous other attempts have occurred at embassies overseas or been foiled by local, state, and federal law enforcements, though the number of attempted terrorist plots largely remains classified information, and for seemingly presumably reasons.

As we bow our heads tomorrow in remembrance of those lost on that otherwise typical Tuesday morning in September 2001, a lot else will be on our minds. Images of the twin towers falling; smoke rising in superfluous excess and serving as a grim backdrop to the Statue of Liberty as it sits unaware of the carnage taking place just on shore; people jumping from the top stories of the burning buildings; planes careening headlong into skyscrapers; our own insecurities raised to the top of the glass by the murky and turbulent waters of uncertainty in the modern era. There will be much to think on tomorrow. That goes without saying. Remember? How could I forget?
(Google Images)