Today marks the 15th anniversary of September 11th, 2001. The four coordinated attacks on that day ended the lives of almost 3,000 victims, and deeply affected America as a whole. Each one of us reacted differently to the events of 9/11, but there's no doubt that it evoked powerful emotions within us all. We have not forgotten, and we will never forget.
Rather than recount the facts of what occurred, I'd like to instead share my personal recollections of the day, and how it changed my philosophy about emergency preparedness. I also reached out to our magazine's head editor, Patrick Vuong, and invited him to do the same. Although neither of us were on the East Coast that day, perhaps our thoughts can provide some insight into how 9/11 affected our mindsets and how it eventually contributed to the development of this magazine.
I vividly remember hearing about the attacks on the morning of the 11th. It was a seemingly uneventful Tuesday, and at 6:30am I had just gotten out of bed and started getting ready for school. While I know this reveals my age, I was in junior high at the time, and my mind was occupied with now-insignificant thoughts about pop quizzes and homework due dates. As I began preparing for the day, the phone rang in our kitchen, and my mom answered. I heard her say, “Hello?”, pause for a few seconds, and then gasp, “Oh god.”
Still on the phone, my mom walked into the living room and flipped on the TV. Images of black smoke billowing out of the two towers of the World Trade Center filled the screen. It was like something out of a movie, a fictional disaster that I thought couldn't possibly be happening in real time. Yet there it was. Already, there was talk of how this couldn't have been an accident, and who might be responsible.
We drove to my school without speaking a word, shortly after watching the towers collapse on live TV. I sat in homeroom with my classmates, listening as news anchors came to the realization that this had been a coordinated attack. An intentional strike by those who hated us. Looking back, I wasn't old enough to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
Shock was what I felt when I woke up to footage of two planes plowing into the World Trade Center. Who did this? I asked myself. What about all those people inside the buildings? Where could they have gone? How could have they escaped? Then I learned that two other planes had been hijacked, one plunging into the Pentagon and the other crashing in Pennsylvania after passengers fought back. F*cking terrorists.
Eventually, I realized that watching the TV reports all day long would make me either too angry or too emotionally numb. I had to do something. I had to be productive. So, I went to my college newspaper’s bullpen — I know I'm dating myself here — to do what I knew best at the time: report and write on the news. Upon arriving, I proudly saw none of my fellow student journalists had stayed home. We channeled our fears, grief, and sadness into producing one of the most heartfelt editions of our daily newspaper to date.
Watching the events on September 11th was a formative moment for me. As teenager who grew up in a safe neighborhood, I had little concept of the evil that exists in this world. Until that point, it seemed reasonable to me that if you kept out of trouble and stayed away from dangerous places, no harm would come to you at the hand of another human being. This naïveté was shattered as I watched thousands of civilians die on live national TV.
I realized then that there are people who not only wish harm upon innocents, but who willingly end their lives to make those wishes a reality. I can't fathom that mentality, but its existence is a fact I have accepted. This has led me to be more analytical of the motives of those around me. I'd love to blissfully assume the best of everyone, but I also feel it's often unrealistic to do so. I've been told this is a cynical viewpoint, and that may be true, but I think a bit of cynicism may not be such a bad thing these days.
I also realized on September 11th that disasters occur without warning. There have since been reports that a handful of analysts and intelligence organizations heard “chatter” of heightened terrorist activity inside the USA, but didn't know the specifics or the magnitude of it, and lacked the inter-agency coordination to stop it. Hindsight is 20/20. The average American never could have seen it coming. Those killed that day woke up expecting an ordinary Tuesday, just as I did when I got out of bed that morning. This factor of unpredictability has caused me to advocate emergency preparedness as an everyday philosophy. Tragedies occur unexpectedly, so we must be proactive, not reactive.
At the same time, I feel there are some circumstances in which no amount of preparation can change the outcome. But rather than succumbing to fear of these circumstances, I choose to accept what may be inevitable, and do everything in my power to be ready for what may not be. We must not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown; rather, use it as a motivator to learn, grow, and prepare.
The hijackings immediately changed my mindset, especially in terms of readiness while traveling or in public places. Having already studied and taught martial arts for several years up to that point, I started questioning my own abilities and preparations.
If I were there, could I have stopped them? I asked myself. And more importantly, Would I have had the courage to stop them?
To know definitively if the answer to the first question would be yes, I dove into self-defense training even more passionately after 9/11. I sought out the best teachers available to me and the most effective systems that would allow me to handle myself in common places, from a tight airplane aisle to an open food court. I made it a priority to study a wide range of weapons (conventional and improvised), because if a few box cutters could be used to overtake a plane, I'd better be ready to find a force multiplier in any setting. Also, I've since incorporated more reality-based drills that mimic the adrenaline-inducing stress of an actual crisis.
September 11th taught me that the unimaginable could happen, so I have to properly prepare and (just as importantly) practice. Whether it’s executing an effective self-defense tactic or packing the right gear for any possible incident, survival is a combination of knowledge, preparation, and experience – all of which will eventually give you the courage to act when SHTF.
Where were you when you learned about the attacks on 9/11? How has that day affected you? Let us know in the comments below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.