Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

11 years after 9/11

Last year’s 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a big one for me. I needed to observe it carefully and intently. I wanted to be alone for a few hours. I chose to paddle a sea kayak up along through a bay and tidal rapids to an obscure corner of a salt pond where boats almost ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Last year's 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a big one for me. I needed to observe it carefully and intently. I wanted to be alone for a few hours. I chose to paddle a sea kayak up along through a bay and tidal rapids to an obscure corner of a salt pond where boats almost never go. I grounded my boat at the base of a outcropping and sat and ate my lunch, and then looked out on this beautiful peaceful world for a long time.

Then I leaned back on the moss-covered ground and slept. When I awoke from my afternoon nap in the sun, I said, "That's it." For 10 years, 9/11 and its consequences had dominated my life. I had lost friends. I had worked pretty much non-stop for a decade. It wasn't time to forget, but it was time to move on and reclaim my life, to be a more attentive husband and father, among other things. It was time to try to be normal again. Over the last year I've been especially conscious of the small things -- my wife's wonderful scrambled eggs, the joy of my dogs in running in the woods, the tranquil gurgle of water passing along the hull of a sloop on a warm summer afternoon.

I think the country has more or less regained its equilibrium. We overreacted, and our leaders did especially, I think. Their overheated rhetoric was never matched by any sense of national mobilization, which I think contributed to the nation's psychic imbalance: If we are at war, why doesn't it feel like it?

Last year’s 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a big one for me. I needed to observe it carefully and intently. I wanted to be alone for a few hours. I chose to paddle a sea kayak up along through a bay and tidal rapids to an obscure corner of a salt pond where boats almost never go. I grounded my boat at the base of a outcropping and sat and ate my lunch, and then looked out on this beautiful peaceful world for a long time.

Then I leaned back on the moss-covered ground and slept. When I awoke from my afternoon nap in the sun, I said, "That’s it." For 10 years, 9/11 and its consequences had dominated my life. I had lost friends. I had worked pretty much non-stop for a decade. It wasn’t time to forget, but it was time to move on and reclaim my life, to be a more attentive husband and father, among other things. It was time to try to be normal again. Over the last year I’ve been especially conscious of the small things — my wife’s wonderful scrambled eggs, the joy of my dogs in running in the woods, the tranquil gurgle of water passing along the hull of a sloop on a warm summer afternoon.

I think the country has more or less regained its equilibrium. We overreacted, and our leaders did especially, I think. Their overheated rhetoric was never matched by any sense of national mobilization, which I think contributed to the nation’s psychic imbalance: If we are at war, why doesn’t it feel like it?

Let’s not forget 9/11. Let’s remember that we are still at war in Afghanistan. But let’s also enjoy some normal.   

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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