Today marks the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, this generation’s “day that will live in infamy!” For those who survived the Trade Center towers, were inside the Pentagon, had loved ones aboard flight 93, or were among the first responders and the thousands of ordinary citizens who spent frantic days searching for survivors and endless months recovering body-parts and cleaning up, no reminder is necessary.
The rest of us could do nothing more than watch in horror as the event unfolded, killing thousands of innocent people in the process. We stared in a trance-like gaze as, in an instant, HUNDREDS of New York firefighters, paramedics, and police officers lost their lives in the worst terror attack in our country’s history.
I was born June 18, 1940, one and a half years prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. For my generation, THAT was our FIRST “day that will live in infamy;” 9/11 became our second one.
From the moment that I became mature enough to understand the full impact of Pearl Harbor, I have paused on its anniversary to reflect, silently within the seclusion of my mind, on the horrible impact the attack had on this nation and the way it changed innumerable lives forever.
My father survived the war, but some uncles on my father’s side of the family didn’t. For decades… in fact until the day she died, my grandmother cried on Christmas Day and on the birthdays of her two sons killed in WWII.
I’ve done the same reflection on each anniversary of 9/11/2001. It was a horrible attack and loss of innocent lives, but I didn’t lose any family members or friends that day. As such, my reaction, though it was rife with anger and resentment, was clinical.
However, thousands of others did lose loved ones and friends. For them, the horror, loss of life, and accompanying grief were deeply personal. And, like my late grandmother, many of them will continue, for the rest of their lives, to shed tears over the loss of their loved ones.
Death ends a life, not a relationship. This is why we grieve whenever people we love die. Time does not end relationships, either; it simply helps us to live without those who have died. It eventually dulls our grief, but, we still cry; it’s just that our periods of grief are not as frequent and inconsolably crushing.
Throughout its history, the human race has tended to react in the present to life’s cataclysmic horrors and loss of innocent human lives. And, over the millennia, we’ve grown big on erecting memorials to such horrific events, with the point being to make sure that future generations REMEMBER.
It works for a while, but as the years morph into decades, and the decades dissolve into centuries, time, combined with the deaths of contemporaries, dulls collective perspectives.
Because of this, future generations remember only the memorials but lose all perception relative to the vast human tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit that gave rise to the memorials in the first place. Such matters assume their place as footnotes in our history books.
And, even though the nation’s retailers eventually get around to helping future generations “remember” by holding MEMORIAL SALES, they’ll eventually forget anyway as they scurry through our nation’s shopping malls to take advantage of “50% off.”
A few hundred years or so ago, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a memorial address that still stands, unparalleled, as the greatest memorial address ever delivered by a U. S. President in tribute to American lives lost.
While there are FIVE known transcripts of that address—each containing a different number of words ranging from 178 to 272—we can all agree that it was the personification of brevity while delivering its point clearly. But, his admonition, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” missed the mark.
As for “…what they did here,” nowadays, few people REMEMBER more than the fact that a lot of men died to preserve the Union. We remember the speech, but precious little about the horror of that battle, the sheer number of combat deaths—some of them boys as young as SIXTEEN.
And this doesn’t include those horribly wounded who were destined to die from infections that we’ve long since eliminated, or the stench of death and human misery that would plague survivors, their families, and the entire nation for years after.
But, the ADDRESS lives on, having been memorized by generations of schoolchildren. Nor have limitless two-bit politicians ever thought twice about lifting quotes—often used in the wrong context—for the sheer sake of pitching some pet pander du jour.
And, please note as an aside, that memories of Pearl Harbor are ever more quickly dissolving into footnotes in our history books. I fear that those memories have perhaps only another 20-years before the last of my generation dies off.
I’m all for a physical memorial to 9/11. But it’s going to take more than the usual compact inscription that accompanies such memorials to capture the full essence of what happened on September 11, 2001.
This nation was born a plurality in the tradition of all representative democracies. Divergent viewpoints, often diametrically contrasting, are the essence of such democracies. Reasonable TOLERANCE is what keeps them strong and long-lived.
We’ve always demonstrated, in both words and actions, our steadfast resolve to fight to the death to preserve our basic 1st Amendment rights of SPEECH, PRESS, RELIGION, PETITION, and ASSEMBLY.
God notwithstanding, our development and our maintenance of the means to preserve these rights and our demonstrated willingness to use them, even to our own deaths, is why we are a free country. But, if we don’t find a way to stifle a growing trend toward intolerance, this could well change one day.
The attack was, INDEED, an attack on America. But, more importantly, it was an attack against everything America has stood for—and still does—since its birth. And, somehow, we have to make sure that future generations understand this.
As well, we must make sure that future generations understand that “Evil is as evil does” and that, conversely, “Good is as good does.”
We can blame many factions for the attack on 9/11: failed American intelligence, our foreign policies, fanatical Islamists who used religion as an excuse to satisfy their killer-lusts, or any number of other forces. But, the fact remains that on 9/11 evildoers chose to do evil. And, it’s not going to change.
But, it’s also a fact that GOOD-DOERS chose to do good on that day. And they outnumbered the evildoers by ratios of at least a THOUSAND to one. On that day—and for many months thereafter—Americans stood as ONE, united in what was best for the country. And, the rest of the world, excluding our sworn enemies, stood with us.
We need to build into the memorial the ideal that keeps our resolve to minimize special partisan interests by doing what’s best for the nation STRONGER than the issues that divide us.
We’re a free nation, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We’re not going to stay as such if we fail to instill in future generations the ideal that dares them to think how strong this nation IS simply by maintaining that same “as one” resolve that we experienced following the 9/11 attack.
And, while, as individuals, we’re seeking fulfillment and happiness in our own ways, it pays to remember that there are many worthwhile roads that take us there. Just because others are not taking YOUR road, does not mean that THEY’RE lost.
A friend of mine publishes a daily One-Liner. And, it was one of her One-Liners that’s behind the above paragraph. She creates them from many sources and emails them to her distribution list.
They’re fun to read, not to mention succinctly true. She’s not selling anything; she’s just an astutely nice woman who’s learned much throughout her life and enjoys sharing it. So, if you’d like to receive a daily One-Liner, send her an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She’ll add you to her list.
Incidentally, her screen name, Mustang5, is a tribute to her love of horses, particularly thoroughbred horses, not for the money and sport, but simply for her love of horses.
This piece ran longer than I intended. I’ll get to the “SOMETHING STUPID” part next week. While I have a whole list of “SOMETHING STUPIDS,” this particular one was GEM. Stay tuned.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.