I was only 16 when terrorists drove planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was such a bizarre day. My English teacher’s son was on a plane out of DC, and couldn’t be reached. Parents showed up at the school to see their children and patrol the halls–probably evidence that, like most of the country, none of us had any idea what to do. Even in flyover country, there was this pervasive feeling of confusion and fear that nobody felt the need to shake. Were we in any immediate danger, in our small Midwestern town? Probably not. But somewhere in America, people were being murdered, and we felt their fear just as acutely as someone in a more targetable city.
Last year, as I sat in my comfortable office and watched the embassy in Benghazi burn, that fear returned. It was deeper this time; maybe it was because I was older, or because I understood what those flames meant. It was in those first moments when photos of the Ambassador flashed across the screen that I knew what it meant to be afraid.
There was something so dirty about the attack on the Embassy. New York was calculation; Benghazi was the most vulgar display of violence I’d ever seen shown in prime time. The attacks on New York and DC felt directed at me only in the most abstract sense; Benghazi felt personal. Benghazi embodied a global moment of pure, unadulterated hatred that even the shock-jocks in the media refused to acknowledge.
After the towers fell, no one had the audacity to stand in front of a camera and tell the American people that there was no need to worry. No one blamed a video. No one treated the deaths of so many innocents as collateral damage. After Benghazi, though, I’d never seen so many people try so hard to convince me that international acts of animalistic brutality were inconsequential compared to competing discussions on birth control.
For the past year, I’ve been trying to figure out why, when asked, I’ll always say Benghazi had more of an impact on me. Maybe it’s because the rest of the world has been doing its best to convince me that it shouldn’t.