Viewing 9/11 Through the Prism of Today

I got back to the U.S. from my honeymoon on Sept. 10, 2001. My wife went straight home to Washington, D.C., to start her new job at the Justice Department. I went to Washington state, where we’d gotten married, to retrieve our dog Cosmo, whom we’d left with family. I was in a hotel room in Pendleton, Oregon, when I saw the first reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I used something called AOL Instant Messenger to tell my co-workers to turn on the TV. 

Because my wife and I had dated for a long time, I used to say that the war on terror changed our daily lives more than getting married did. As weird as that sounds now, in some ways it was true. The Washington we returned to had changed. My wife’s new job as the attorney general’s chief speechwriter at the dawn of the war on terror was a bracing new chapter for us both. And politics, particularly conservative politics — my beat, for want of a better term — transformed almost overnight.

I was editor of National Review Online back then, and even though I’d been traveling when the controversy broke out, it fell to me to “fire” Ann Coulter from National Review (which largely amounted to dropping her column). Outraged by airports clogged by security lines, she wrote: “It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

While this beating of the war drum was too much even for us, the rhythm of the next decade often echoed this tune. A flood of books both serious and silly poured forth about the war on terror, the imminent arrival of a new cold war or world war, and the “generational” struggle with Islam and Islamists that would define our future and our children’s future. 

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