“I don’t understand why other people don’t like us.”
Those were the wise words coming out of my oldest daughter’s mouth the other day, as we had a quick conversation about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
She would’ve been about a month old when the Twin Towers fell. For all practical purposes, she doesn’t remember a world where domestic terrorism wasn’t a very real fear.
On the other hand, I spent most of my life associating the word terrorism with news accounts I read from the Middle East. Growing up in the relatively peaceful times of the 1970s and ’80s, we always thought of the United States as the good guys, the ones who swooped in to help you in times of trouble.
My perception was the rest of the world loved the USA as much as we did, maybe even strived to be more like us.
Oh, how naive and silly I feel about that worldview now that we have 15 years behind us since that fateful day.
Our children grow up in a more realistic world. They know there are people who don’t just dislike our way of life, they hate it and want it to end. These despots don’t like our freedoms, particularly of religion. They want to impose their own beliefs on all people.
Our children live in a world with mass killings in the name of God, a deity we once thought we shared. They live in a world of fear, where you don’t take anything for granted.
I wish my children could know the America in which I grew up. “USA” wasn’t just a chant at the Olympics. It was a way of life. It was pride in what we were, what we are and what we could be. It was a belief that, no matter the obstacles, we could achieve anything if we stuck with those principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I also wish my children had a less cynical father. Seeing those ideals go up in smoke when the two planes hit the World Trade Center that morning scarred me. Suddenly we no longer saw the best in people; we only saw the worst. We gave up many of our personal liberties in the name of security. We now let a stranger pat us down at the airport just to prove we’re not dangerous.
They don’t get an idealist father; they get one who questions if we’re becoming exactly what the terrorists always said we were. They get one who understands why other people don’t like us.
Still, I support the unbridled enthusiasm my children have for their country. They still believe in what the red, white and blue means. They love this country. They don’t understand why other people don’t like us, and I hope they never have to grasp it.