Mourning 9/11: The Loss of Innocence
The first time I came to New York was in April 1997, fresh from service in the IDF, just after the first wave of suicide bombings (I didn’t know then it was just the beginning, and naively believed that, with Benjamin Netanyahu having defeated Shimon Peres, we’d put this aberration behind us!).
Besides the obvious (I decided then and there that New York is the greatest city on the planet), I was blown away by Americans’ simple readiness to take everyone at face value. Here was a society that believed it was better to fall victim to petty deceit than to turn it into a sort of police state where you’re requested to produce an ID at every turn.
The obvious corollary of that mentality was a nonchalant approach to security. Even the first World Trade Center bombing, eight years before 9/11, didn’t convince New Yorkers that they were being threatened by an implacable, malicious force, completely alien to their own visions of good and evil, determined to use everything good and pure in America against it. On my way back from Liberty Island I couldn’t restrain myself from asking a police officer – “aren’t you guys afraid that someone might smuggle weapons or explosives to the Island, take tourists hostage, or blow up the statue or parts of it?” He was genuinely puzzled: “Why would somebody do something so pointless?” An elderly gentleman who overheard our conversation told me that I had a vivid imagination.
Obviously, the real New Yorkers of 1997 would probably disagree with my rose-tinted view of their city and their society. Still, coming from an Israel traumatized by Saddam’s unanswered rockets, the shattered promise of Oslo, Rabin’s murder, and suicide bombings, here was a breath of fresh air, a society operating on a cheerful premise that all people are rational beings, capable of choosing good over evil, and therefore reliable and predictable and deserving of trust. But 13 years ago, Bin Laden’s thugs destroyed that society – perhaps, forever. I knew it then, after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Today, America is probably safer from harm than it was in 1997. But the price it was forced to pay, the innocence that was lost – that cannot be rebuilt. I’ve gone back to New York again and again, but on this anniversary I want to cry – not when I remember the horror of falling towers on my TV, but when I go back to this spring of ’97 and the city that was.