9/11 and sacrificing rights in fear

Carly Besser Opinion Editor

It’s amazing what people will do as a reaction to fear.

I was in my third grade classroom when news broke about hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Center. I was confused and unable to process why our hysterical teacher was pointing to Afghanistan on the giant world map. What I thought would go away after a couple of days began a barrage of post-terror reports that I will probably never forget.

I used to fall asleep to local radio, but I didn’t sleep much after hearing the talkshow hosts predicting that other cities, buildings and people would become targets next and that we should all lie low. Because I was so gullible, I played sick the next day. I was afraid that terrorists would bomb my Catholic elementary school because this was the impression left on young, impressionable people. Seems rational, right?

It wasn’t any more rational than the way the media handled the crisis. I remembered my mom picking up a newspaper and I saw the bloody, mutilated face of someone who was crushed under a falling elevator in the World Trade Center on the front page. The following issue showed a man plummeting to his death after falling out of a windown. I couldn’t imagine my future children being exposed to something so horrific.

While it was a common reaction to be scared, confused and angry about the attacks of Sept. 11 at the time, the media sensationalized events to boost our already intense fear, which later affected American policy. We still face the consequences today.

Our fear that was boosted by the media is the reason we almost unanimously agreed that airline security needed a dramatic overhaul. It’s why you have to throw away your shampoo, your medications and aerosol spray cans every time you go on vacation. It’s why you will probably be detained if you speak another language, wear a traditional headdress or have an outdated passport.

We’re in the midst of deciding what is within the power of the federal government. We felt violated when former National Security Association contractor Edward Snowden confirmed that our phone calls, emails, social media posts and other communications were being monitored. We seem to forget that we practically consented to this “violation” because of our fear during 9/11. The Patriot Act was signed one month after the attacks, which allowed for enhanced surveillance and wiretapping of phones.

It seems that because we were so devastated and afraid, we lost our sense of freedom and rationality. We gave up freedoms that we sorely miss today because we felt that it would protect us.

We abandoned our ethics after publishing pictures that mothers would never want their children to remember for years.

Sept. 11 was a tragedy, and I will never downplay the pain that Americans suffered as a unit, but if we ever see ourselves in a situation similar to the attacks, I hope we remember our freedoms. If we sacrifice them out of fear, we may never get them back.


Column by Carly Besser, Opinion Editor