Have We Forgotten 9/11?
In a column earlier this year, I apparently offended a few people when I offered the following observation. “For too many Americans the emotional memory of the horror and outrage of 9/11 has faded.” On the eighth anniversary of September 11, 2001, it seems an appropriate time to address the matter of how we remember 9/11.
On that bright, clear September Tuesday morning eight years ago, everything seemed quite ordinary. The familiar jocular voices of WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan were on the radio at my house, providing background noise in their usual fashion. Then I detected a change in their voices. The usual morning radio wisecracks were replaced by an urgent but somber tone. I listened more attentively. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.
Early speculation that it was a horrible aviation accident quickly gave way to the knowledge that fanatical Muslim extremists had in a coordinated attack hijacked and flown large commercial airliners into both towers of the World Trade Center. A third hijacked plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania following a struggle between passengers and the hijackers for control of the plane.
I turned on the television and saw the gaping hole in one of the World Trade Center towers. Along with millions of others, I watched in horror as both towers collapsed to the ground.
Air traffic was grounded for days. We hardly notice the default background noise of planes in our everyday lives, but we all noticed the silence in the skies after 9/11, pierced only occasionally by the distinctly different engine sound of a patrolling military aircraft.
For more than a week, it was 24-hour wall-to-wall coverage of the attacks on television. The baseball season was suspended. Americans were united in their outrage. American flags appeared everywhere. It seemed like every car had a flag flying from its antenna.
No one wondered what we had done to deserve this. Everyone believed that another major attack was not a matter of “if” but “when?”
In the ensuing weeks and months, things slowly, cautiously assumed a more normal air, but no one thought we could ever go back to the way it was before 9/11. As network TV entertainment shows slowly returned, we wondered if we would ever laugh again. When Saturday Night Live finally returned to the air, New York Mayor Rudy Giulani appeared alongside producer Lorne Michaels.
“Is it ok to be funny?” Michaels asked Giuliani.
“Why start now?” Giuliani quipped, letting New York and the nation know that it could at last begin to peak out from beneath its solemn veil.
But for months air travel remained down, as people were afraid to fly. Stricter airport security remains in effect to this day. For months after 9/11, many thought twice before entering a skyscraper.
It’s important that we recall not just the cold events of 9/11, but that we also remember how we felt that day. Yet there are signs that some have forgotten what 9/11 felt like.
Some people seem more offended by the actions of those who tried to keep us safe in the wake of 9/11 than they are by the original attacks.
The current administration in Washington has abandoned the term “War on Terror,” and replaced it with the more innocuous “overseas contingency operation.” The Obama administration even eschews the word “terrorist.”
The administration’s move to make September 11 “A Day of Service” serves only to diminish and dilute the true significance of the day. They seem to want to downplay 9/11 as if it were no big deal.
President Obama appointed a 9/11 denier as his adviser on “Green Jobs.” Van Jones was recently forced to resign after it was exposed that he signed a vicious “9/11 Truth” petition suggesting that the US government and the Bush Administration played a role in the 9/11 attacks. But for this discovery about Jones’s background, this 9/11 denier would still be a welcome member of the Obama Administration, advising the President of the United States.
No one is saying that Americans should wear their outrage on their sleeve forever. It’s true that it would be unhealthy to maintain that initial level of anger and indignation long term. But we should resist all these efforts to erase the emotional memory of 9/11 and its accompanying outrage from the national psyche altogether.
Despite the efforts of some, we can’t just pretend 9/11 never happened. And we should never forget how we felt on that day.
[This column appeared in the September 11, 2009, Wakefield Daily Item.]
(Col. Ralph Peters said it much better than I could in his column, Betraying Our Dead.)
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