13 years post-tragedy

Thirteen years ago today, the United States was shaken at it’s core; the date 9/11 will never be viewed the same. Four hijacked planes crashed into the heart of New York City, the first two in the World Trade Center. The third crashed into the Pentagon’s west side, and the fourth narrowly missed the White House, due to the efforts of the brave passengers.

Today John Brown University remembers what was lost, what was saved and what has changed.

“The world is a different place,” said Aminta Arrington, Assistant Professor of intercultural studies. Arrington was in Japan when the planes hit and was awoken by her husband, a member of the United States Army assigned to Camp Zama.

A former military intelligence officer herself and seven months pregnant at the time, Arrington said she was overcome by homesickness for America, even though she loved learning and living in other cultures.

“I just had this overwhelming sense that I wanted to move back to America and protect my baby,” she said.

Jarra Woods, sophomore at the university, had a similar connection. On that day, her father, also a military intelligence officer, was in New York at Fort Drum.

“I knew something was wrong when mom was in badly masked hysteria when she got home,” Woods said.

Fortunately her father was far upstate of the attacks; however, Woods’ father had turned down an assignment in the Pentagon a couple years before.

“For some reason they decided to turn it down even though it was a better job,” Woods said. “The job was in the wing they were going to hit. Mom calls it a God thing.”

Senior Laura Roller understands the feeling of a close encounter.

“The most traumatic thing about it was that my birthday was in a week, and I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a world then,” Roller said.

Like most Americans, Roller said her world was shaken by the attacks.

“I wasn’t afraid of dying,” Roller said. “Death was too big a concept for me, but not having a birthday was pretty terrible.”

Marquita Smith, head of the department of communication, was in the trenches of the media when it happened, working her first editor job as a city editor for the Montgomery Advertiser.

Smith had just come off the night shift and was sleeping when one of her senior reporters, a man named Alvin Benn, called her.

“Wake up, kiddo,” Smith recalled him saying. “The world is falling apart.”

By a strange circumstance, none of Smith’s superiors were able to come in to the office so it fell to her to print a special issue.

“It’s a day I will never forget,” Smith said. “What I was feeling was parallel to what the nation was feeling: the fear, the grief, the loss, the panic.”

Few members of the student body now remember what the world was like before the Sept. 11 attacks, but Smith sees a radical change.

“The way we work, the way we play, the way we pray,” Smith said. “In a matter of minutes, all of those things changed.”

“Even among the press corps, subtle hints of bias began to creep in,” Smith said.

She recalled the stories sent in by a Virginian-Pilot reporter on the ground in Iraq. When he described the military action, he often used the word “we.”

“ ‘We’ infiltrated. ‘We’ went in,” Smith said. “Prior to then, you had a lot less patriotism in the reporting. Some of that objectivity dissipated.”

Arrington noticed a similar pattern in the treatment of Middle Easterners by Americans.

“We now have the tendency to view them as an enemy,” Arrington said. “You don’t tend to want to understand your enemy unless you want to defeat them.”

As an intercultural studies professor, Arrington strives to encourage understanding of all different groups of people. However, she said, not much progress has been made on that account since the attacks.

War in Afghanistan continues, and the military continues to pursue al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Even so, Arrington remains hopeful, “I always think there’s the possibility of understanding.”