A Joyous 9/11

Posted by in Aviation

In some ways, it’s difficult to believe that ten years have past since the infamous 9/11 attacks which impacted — and continue to impact — our lives so drastically. Each of us remembers exactly what we were doing that morning, how we heard the news. An exhaustive series of images and stories are indelibly etched into our memories, although one wonders how much of that is due to the incessant stream of news replays, documentaries, and other media.

On the other hand, there are times when it feels like September 10th, 2001 was a lifetime ago. The simple ability to escort a friend to the plane when they depart. Remember that? Or my personal favorite: being that smiling face a loved one sees at the gate the moment they emerge into the terminal. Instead, we now wait curbside in an idling vehicle as they awkwardly struggle to tote their baggage to the car, alone and under the suspicious glare of law enforcement policing the loading zone like some open-air Alcatraz.

Truth be told, there have been moments in the past decade when many of us look around at how things have changed and wonder how we would even define victory in this war. It’s something we don’t talk about much amongst others, lest we be labeled unpatriotic or denigrated by comparison to the suffering of those who perished on 9/11 or the Middle Eastern theater.

Unfortunately, such comparisons miss the whole point. The aftermath of 9/11 contained a trap, and as a denizen of the aviation industry, it’s not clear to me that we avoided walking right into it.

I recently read a comparison between December 7, 1951 and September 11, 2011 — both 10 year anniversaries of day which live in infamy — and the article pointed out that the anniversary of Pearl Harbor wasn’t really noted at all. It was supplanted by VE Day. The current struggle doesn’t seem likely to have such a definitive end, and perhaps that’s why our remembrances take place on the day of attack instead of the day of victory. If we wait until the day we are “secure” from all threat to celebrate our victory, we will be waiting a very long time indeed.

My view is (and has been since long before 9/11) that security and safety should never be the primary objective of political leaders, military, or ourselves. The most important thing we possess is our freedom, and the simple truth is that no terrorist could ever take that away. Only we can do that to ourselves.

History shows that freedom is expensive and difficult to obtain and all too easy to relinquish. Much like the apocryphal boiling frog, if it happens gradually enough you might not even notice. A little restriction here, a new legal precedent there, an executive order or two, it’s no big deal. We’re making everything safer. Who could possibly be against that?

Anniversaries of 9/11 are never happy times, and this is just another reason I find them so. Thankfully, this year the day’s activities provided the perfect counterpoint to a focus on what we’ve lost. One of my students made his first solo flight yesterday, and it really did add a joyous element to the day. There’s something about the first time a person flies solo. Imagine it: the instructor was always there to lend you a hand, but now he’s gone and it’s all up to you. Your first moment as the pilot-in-command of an aircraft!! You’re excited, happy… and maybe a little nervous. Here’s his first takeoff:

It wasn’t by design that this occurred on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, it just happened to work out that way. To be honest, beyond an extra careful check of TFRs and NOTAMs, I didn’t give it a second thought. It was only after the fact that I realized what a positive spin this put on an infamously lousy date in aviation history.

Most of the flying public may have been on edge yesterday, but now instead of picturing of airliners crashing into skyscrapers on 9/11, at least a few people will also be able to recall a joyous flying moment on that day. I am happy to be one of them.