7
Sep

By Bill Keller

Baghdad in March 2003, after the invasion but before the fall.

Ten years after the attacks, we memorialize the loss and we mark the heroism, but there is no organized remembrance of the other feelings that day aroused: the bewilderment, the vulnerability, the impotence. It may be difficult to recall with our attention now turned inward upon a faltering economy, but the suddenly apparent menace of the world awakened a bellicose surge of mission and made hawks of many — including me — who had a lifelong wariness of the warrior reflex.

When the planes hit, I was beginning a new life in the opinion department, an elevator ride up from the newsroom that I had served as a Times reporter and editor for 17 years. My debut was not for a couple of weeks, and I was laboring on a nice, safe essay about Western water rights. As the ash cloud spread, I set off on foot through the dazed city, feeling more than a little pointless, until I was summoned by my new boss to write. Something. Now.

My first Op-Ed column, published Sept. 12, counted the ways our sense of the world would now be changed; we would be like Israelis, rearranging our lives around threat. The column was the opposite of warlike.

“Perhaps,” I counseled, “after the obligatory and symbolic reprisals, which will be as ineffectual as Israel’s, our president will spend more time talking about the real-world vigilance of intelligence and law enforcement — which depend on a world of carefully tended alliances — and less about the computer-game threat of a nuclear missile from a suicidal rogue state, which we can handle in the solitude of the Situation Room.”

But my prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq, a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11, but which would be its most contentious consequence. And I was no longer preaching “the real-world vigilance of intelligence and law enforcement.” Read more…

Bill Keller will rejoin the Times Op-Ed page this month.

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 6, 2011 (a version of this article will appear in print on September 11, 2011, on page MM36 of the Sunday Magazine).

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