Friday, September 11, 2015

Some 9/11 Changes Were Good, Some Were Not

GOUVEIA: Steep price in liberty paid since those attacks

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Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 10:17 pm | Updated: 11:02 pm, Thu Sep 10, 2015.
It's September 11th - the day that changed America.
It was 14 years ago today a group of suicidal terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. Thanks to the actions of some heroic passengers, their other stolen plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field before it could reach its intended target.
America lost a lot that fateful day, beginning with the innocent victims who died. This included passengers, people on the ground, and the brave first-responders who put themselves at risk by running in when most were running out.
But the other part of 9/11 is the effect it had on those of us fortunate enough to survive. Or perhaps more accurately, the effect it had on our country, our idea of safety and security and our approach to life and politics in general.
It would take more space than is available here to fully detail all the ways the United States changed that day. Some effects were obvious and immediate. Others were more subtle and took longer to materialize. And some were good, while others were at best questionable.
For those who remember flying prior to late 2001, going to an airport is a completely different experience. Checking bags and carrying things on an airplane is regulated far beyond what it was then. Accompanying your loved ones to the gate is a thing of the past. Heck, even carrying a bottle of mouthwash in your carry-on can get you branded as a security problem.
Because of that tragic day, you can't bring a pocketknife on a plane. Yet after several school shootings, we can't come close to renewing a previous ban on assault weapons. Go figure.
But the political changes are what most directly affect our lives, even if they seem a bit less obvious than the travel restrictions. September 11th enabled and ushered in a new era of conservative activism, social reform and aggressive foreign policy attitudes, which have greatly affected the current status of America.
It is no coincidence that our last federal government surplus was in 2001. The initial increase in defense and security spending was totally understandable and necessary. No one really knew what was to follow the attacks on our homeland back then, and our government had a clear responsibility to ramp up our preparedness.
But the Patriot Act (a politically-charged naming if there ever was one) went far beyond mere security. It made basic changes in the freedoms and privacy most Americans enjoyed. It allowed government unprecedented access to our personal lives, and was supported by those who had spent a lifetime generally opposing what they now advocated.
And Americans were much more supportive of making someone else pay for our pain - even if they weren't really to blame for it. The Bush administration and our intelligence community (both previous and subsequent) acted out on behalf of America.
At the cost of thousands of American lives, we attacked and toppled Saddam Hussein, a ruthless dictator who we ultimately discovered had little or nothing to do with attacks on America. We attacked Afghanistan, where many of the true terrorists were hiding with the support of some governments in that area.
Our federal spending soared to new heights. Military budgets saw a revitalization. More than 250 governmental agencies have been created since 2001, according to the Washington Post. The budgets of the TSA, the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol have all more than doubled.
And we as citizens have pretty much just accepted it.
We now tolerate behavior from public officials (or those seeking office) that we never would have accepted before. We willingly sacrifice parts of our constitutional rights to gain some security, a move Benjamin Franklin warned us against centuries ago.
The people who died that fateful day 14 years ago deserve to be remembered and mourned. The strength of our country in rebounding from that day deserves to be celebrated.
America has changed since then, and not always for the better. But we still have the ability to shape the future.
As I submit this, I am awaiting my fifth grandchild. His/her anticipated arrival date is today - September 11th.
I believe that to be a sign of better days.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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