My Generation Inherited the Aftermath of 9/11
In the dead of summer in 2005, my family moved to a small town near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Flight 93 crashed in a clearing there a few years earlier, killing all 44 people on board. We set out to visit the memorial that had sprung up at the site.
The feelings from that day have stuck with me far longer than the fine points. I remember the thick silence. I remember how makeshift the whole thing seemed. Flowers, flags, and photographs were pinned to a chain-link fence in the middle of the field, much of the memorabilia weathered. I didn’t quite know why we were all there.
On that day in Shanksville, my first interaction with the aftermath of 9/11, I was five years old.
I have no memory of September 11. Neither does nearly one-fifth of the country. What Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation all ranked in a 2016 Pew Research Center poll as the single most impactful event of their lifetimes is just out of reach for those of us in Generation Z. In large part, people my age connect to the attacks more through the security and surveillance overhauls they sparked than the day itself.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is perhaps the most visible of the homefront measures. I took only three flights as a baby before the agency’s November 2001 creation. My parents and grandparents tell me that you could once greet people right at the gate. You didn’t have to show up hours before departure. You could keep your shoes on in the security line (and calling it a security line might’ve even been a stretch).
As I travel now, that world is as foreign to me as the time when you could still smoke on planes. In some sense, these new annoyances are easier to stomach since I’ve never known travel without them. On the other hand, it’s hard to see why an agency long proven ineffective continues to plague a generation that wasn’t in the room when it came into existence.
The TSA has a weapons detection failure rate of somewhere between 70 and 95 percent, even as the government gives it billions of dollars to fulfill its seemingly straightforward mission. The biggest hassles I’ve had in TSA care have centered not on my transporting anything particularly weaponlike, but on a wooden elephant figurine, an umbrella, and a packet of chili powder. There hasn’t been another 9/11 in my li
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