As I reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, I’m troubled by a term thrown around so much today, “The New Normal”.
I was in Manhattan on business on 9/11, and as the planes hit the towers and the towers eventually fell, a realization hit me like a ton of bricks: my brother-in-law worked in the towers. For those that remember, cell service became unreliable quickly that day in Manhattan. So too did taxi, bus, and subway service. So, I began the run from downtown to the upper east side to be with my sister, Carrie. The gravity of the situation hit me even harder when I found her and she point blanked me, “Do you think he’s dead?” The towers had collapsed, she had not been able to contact him. What was I supposed to say?! “Yes” was all I could manage. From there, Carrie and I began the walk through what felt like a ghost town, to what seemed like every hospital in Manhattan. The hospital employees were at their best, most compassionate. “No, his name is not on our list, I’m sorry. Please leave your phone number and if he’s admitted we’ll call you. Do you have a picture?” Of course we had a picture, just like everyone else looking for a loved one that day.
Everyone has a different story about how their lives were changed on 9/11. My sister lost her husband, my in-laws lost their son and brother. My brother-in-law’s name was Tony. He remains in our hearts and we’ll mourn his loss forever. Eight years later, my sister Carrie died of cancer. To this day my mother mourns her daughter’s death on two dates; the day she passed and 9/11. My mother will always believe that it wasn’t cancer that took my sister, it was September 11, 2001.
For my part, as a Special Agent with the FBI, I investigated International Terrorism out of the FBI’s flag ship office, New York City, after 9/11. I investigated bomb makers, travel facilitators, and general supporters of terrorism from New York to California, the United States to Central Asia. Because of my background as a Navy SEAL and FBI SWAT Operator, I was attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment where, along with the SEAL Teams and Delta Force, we conducted sustained combat operations against Tier One terrorist targets in Afghanistan just prior to the troop surge in 2010.
Through the years I heard it all. This was a new type of war with a new type of enemy. Victory would not be won in the same way as past wars. There was no one battlefield. Our new enemy was “The New Normal” as far as enemies went. It was all true, but so what? At least that was my attitude. It still had to be addressed and dealt with. For many years, countless terrorist threats throughout the United States and the world were foiled. I had firsthand knowledge of many of them both at home and abroad. And then, one day, after several successful terrorist attacks in the United States and other parts of the world, I heard it. Terrorism was “The New Normal”. It was no longer that big of a deal because more people die every year from car accidents, or some such nonsense.
Great leaders set guidelines and hold people accountable to those guidelines. Behavior in our country over the last several years to today has been leaderless and without guidelines or accountability. Outlandish behavior has been, and is being, justified at every turn by people of all colors, creeds, religions, and especially political affiliation.
Guilty of our country’s creep into a “New Normal” of behavior are representatives from all backgrounds: Muslim Extremism, White Nationalism, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, the celebration of a convicted terrorist during a New York City parade, and the use of excessive force in pursuit of the law. While we agree it is wrong to discriminate or pre-judge people because of their color, creed, religion, or political affiliation, have we come to the point yet to say it is equally wrong to excuse someone’s behavior because of these attributes? It should never be normal for a person to murder innocent people in an act of terrorism; it should never be normal for a person to drive their car into a crowd of counter-protesters with the clear intent to kill; it should never be normal to assassinate law enforcement officers; it should never be normal to honor a terrorist in a parade; it should never be normal to shoot an unarmed person that does not pose an immediate threat to public safety. Yet these behaviors are only selectively condemned by portions of our society. It seems that today, if we generally relate to people based on a physical or social attribute, despicable actions supporting “the cause” are either over-looked or justified.
I pray, on this anniversary of September 11, 2001, that we all become leaders of our own lives. I pray that we never justify or ignore behavior that does not make the world a better place simply because we look like, vote like, or worship like people responsible for abhorrent behavior. Leadership can solve every problem we face as a county. I hope we can start solving problems by exercising leadership in our own lives and by demanding it from our elected officials so we never accept events that create mayhem, division, and unremitting sadness, events like 9/11, as “The New Normal”.
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