Mere Anarchy Is Loosed Upon the World

By Joseph S. Pete

When the first plane hit the Twin Towers, I was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington who was stringing at the Indianapolis Star, covering Morgan County government in a collar county as a woefully underpaid and even less appreciated freelancer.

I had pulled an all-nighter trying to craft the raw clay of a poorly attended municipal meeting into the refined sculpture of a story.

I sent my crude, collegiate workmanship off to the editor earlier in the morning, maybe caught an hour or two of sleep, then called in to check if he had any questions or edits.

“Aren’t you watching the TV?” my editor asked, incredulous.
I wasn’t.

Should I have been? I should have. I felt like somehow I should have known. I never felt so small or insignificant as I did that day.

9/11 was a large part of why I enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, though I also had spent too much time chasing stories while neglecting my classwork that I no longer qualified for student loans and needed the G.I. Bill to finish school and get the bachelor’s degree that’s a prerequisite for any scant degree of comfort in the modern world. I got sent off to Iraq, played around with guns and grenades, probably ultimately did far more harm than good. Our civilian leaders ultimately decided what to do with teenage enlistees from the Bronx, Bridgeport, rural Iowa, San Pedro, and points all over, and it turned out they might not have been the most enlightened and well-meaning.

On that airless gut punch of a day, it felt like a defining generational event that would forever change the world. Less than two decades later, it feels like another tragic chapter in human history that ultimately begot even more tragedy. That’s the thing: no matter how good, how ideal, how self-sacrificial your intentions, you may ultimately be thwarted in the end just the same.

The chaos of that day — the choking haze of smoke, the blood-splattered rubble, the sheer confusion over what over what had happened and what was coming next — spilled over into chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, and points abroad for years to come, to where fathers and sons fought in the same endless war. The chaos carried on unabated for more than 17 years at last count.

And if you have ever seen the flash of an IED, heard the bang from a distant sniper, witnessed dogs nibbling at corpses, or watched a fellow soldier kick a blindfolded prisoner of war off the back of a five-ton truck, you knew the chaos of that day had never truly died. You knew it never waned or went away, that it lurked on across the farthest reaches of the globe and in the darkest corners of our hearts.


Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, a war veteran, an Indiana University graduate, and a frequent guest on NPR. He was named poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, which Chaucer never accomplished. His work has appeared in Fewer than 500, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, Prairie Winds, and 100 other places.

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