In 2001, my little sister was born. In 2001, the Twin Towers fell. Side by side, those two statements are jarring to anyone who witnessed the fateful events of September 11, 2017. An entire generation breathes, having experienced their entire lives in the space between new life and the deadliest event in American history. On the day when 2,996 souls never came home, 11,029 new souls entered the world1. The hijackings are no longer woven into the fabric of their memories, but instead are facts for future students of AP US History to learn, study, and “analyze the consequences” on their document-based questions—and I daresay few of us can recall the details and significance of similar monumental events in American history: John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the suspicious destruction of the USS Maine or the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It’s incredible to imagine that September 11, 2001 has little meaning for many kids besides the vague understanding that it’s the reason for the long lines at the airport.
The passing of 9/11 into the collective amnesia is a legitimate danger to the American psyche. In American society, nothing is more dangerous than irrelevance. Just ask former President Jimmy Carter, whose term in office is forgettable and whom many forget is still kicking. His activism is hardly noticed and fails to stir attention from the American public. Search images from that day and you will see the resemblance of New York City and the now war-torn rubble of Damascus. Only the hardened heart fails to be moved at the sight of the infamous videos of the Twin Towers falling, the Pentagon up in flames, and United Airlines Flight 93 smoldering in a lonely Pennsylvanian field. The symbol of America’s economy, the headquarters of America’s intelligence community, and the legislative branch of the American government (UA 93 was destined for the Capitol Building) came under attack in a deliberate attempt to disable America as a world power—it’s a storyline straight out of an episode of House of Cards, but one slowly losing the effect of the dramatic and unthinkable. Terrorist attacks are ordinary occurrences now in the West and the Middle East, and in the public mind they almost seem as regular as Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and just as forgettable.
I would make an appeal for all Americans to exercise their willpower and meditate on these events, to make for them more than a monument, but also a living memory. However, I know the human condition enough that the general public will quickly move on with their lives and those who still suffer from the memories will be left behind. As anyone who has lost a loved one in the middle of a busy semester knows, the world slows but it does not stop—“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.” (Hamilton, 2015, track 26).
It’s a shame. Carelessness and forgetfulness are the most dangerous habits to any society. It allows perpetrators to go free and tragedy to continue. The Holocaust is a similar tale. Even the deaths of millions cannot ensure that I will become a better person or that I will immediately drop my present work and become an activist. I can joke about it, walk over it, even deny it if I so choose; what I cannot change is that it happened. Whatever my ties, or lack of ties, obligates me to do, at the very least I must never forget. It’s cliché but true: we are doomed to repeat history if we are not mindful of it. Check the fall of empires, the recurrent genocides and civil wars, and even the repeated abuse in relationships— they all have the common thread of collective negligence and mindlessness.
1Averaged from the number of births in the United States in 2001, according to the Center for Disease Control.