The Last Time the World Changed Forever

The world as we know it has changed forever. We’ve heard that statement repeatedly since COVID-19 took root and spread around the world.

Nineteen months ago, a society where death tolls are reported daily, quarantines are commonplace, masks are mandatory, the importance of social distancing is preached, vaccine cards are handed out, and international travel bans are enacted would all be things we’d expect to see in a science fiction movie, not real life.

And yet, here we are. Sure, many things will return to how they were, but many things will not. If more mutations of COVID-19 emerge, social distancing, masks, and booster shots may be with us for months or years to come.

For many workers, the Monday through Friday commute has been modified or is gone for good. More cities may prohibit people from entering establishments without proof of vaccination, and extended emergency government assistance to help the economy has many Americans growing dependent on it.

We can look to another defining moment in U.S. history and see some similarities.

In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the news and pundits told us that the world had changed forever — that America had lost its innocence. If there had been any question about that, two decades of history to look back on erases all doubt.

The U.S. pre-9/11 was a very different place. Social media didn’t exist, and a terror attack on such a large scale was something that happened in faraway lands — something that people learned about on the evening news. Take air travel, for example. Going to the airport and getting on a plane was a pleasant experience (usually). Security consisted of walking through a metal detector, relatives and friends could greet you at the gate, and children would often be allowed to visit the cockpit during their flight.

After 9/11, the newly established TSA put “heightened” security measures in place that drastically changed the travel experience. We take off our shoes at the checkpoint, get full body scans, endure pat downs, and in some cases, our luggage is rummaged through. On the plane, passengers would not hesitate to subdue anyone who appears to be putting a diabolical plan into motion. And of course, requests for a child visit to the cockpit would be denied.

The war on terrorism meant Big Brother got bigger. Counterterrorism initiatives via the USA Patriot Act ushered in intense surveillance and infringed heavily on citizens’ perceived privacy. The then-new Department of Homeland Security looked at immigrants with a new level of scrutiny, and terror watch lists were frequently updated. The slogan, “If you see something, say something” became ingrained in our vernacular. The U.S. also waged two wars in the Middle East that resulted in tens of thousands of lives being lost.

Americans have grown to be much more suspicious as a result of that day.

As we do each year, this week we are remembering, honoring, and praying for the victims of 9/11 and their families.

In 20 years, our country will remember the millions who lost their lives due to the pandemic. It will also likely mark the permanent changes that came in the post-COVID world.