Today is a particularly difficult day to write a column, but it is necessary. I was in 6th grade homeroom, around 9:21 a.m., when I first heard that the World Trade Center Towers had fallen. I recall thinking what a treat it was to watch T.V. at school, only to see footage that will haunt me until the day I pass from this earth. I remember the tears of my best friend who called New York City his home as we commemorated the attacks the following year. I remember the confusion, the fears, the rumors, the national unity in the following days, and the need to understand what had happened. I remember my father, trying to explain to my younger brother and I what had happened by sharing his memories of President Kennedy's assassination. It is a memory I must bequeath to my future progeny as well, as it is now inextricably tied to our national historical narrative. I was only 11 at the time, too young to understand the gravity of what had transpired, but old enough to realize that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, would forever shape the development of the nation, and the world, I would inherit as an adult.

Names pass in and out of my memory: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Baghdad, the Taliban, Kabul, Fallujah, Bin Laden — names that will surely be discussed in the future study of American political history. My young self was not sophisticated enough to fully grasp their significance, but I could recognize the seismic transformation occurring as I entered young adulthood. Most of my memory has been dominated by this new, unfamiliar and scary world created by Sept. 11.

In the years following the attacks, we wasted perhaps the best opportunity to utilize international goodwill to effect lasting, worldwide good. Instead, our government actively deceived us, sunk down to torture and spying on its own citizens, and firmly established an international reputation as a bully. It did not have to be this way, and every aspect of my being wants to reverse the regressions of the past decade. Instead of attempting to kill those who come from the poverty and misery needed to breed suicide terrorists, why not attempt to remove those conditions all together? Surely, the billions upon billions of dollars spent in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the countless military development projects that never saw the light of day could have been put to another use? I do not want to sound like a hopeless idealist, someone completely unversed in the harsh realities of the world, but surely there can be a compromise. Maybe we should reel in the billions of dollars in (stunningly effective) military aid Pakistan receives yearly.

I hate to be a pessimist; I find it healthier and more rewarding to be inclined to optimism. We may never again achieve the national unity reached in the days following Sept. 11, but I do not know if I want to reach those levels again. They are feelings of delusion, incapable of being sustained. People are too wonderfully different to exist in such a state of uniformity for long anyway. What we should strive for, instead, is to make the world a better place, for one person, one day at a time. Which is the more appealing option: allowing the events of Sept. 11 to forever alter the American character into something bitter, angry, and jaded; or honoring the memory of those taken from us by using their tragedy to make the world a better place?

— Ron Walters is a senior in English Literature, French, and Global Studies. He can be reached at rwalter5@utk.edu