Five years ago, the dedication ceremony for the National September 11th Memorial and Museum was conducted with speeches by the President of the United States and the Mayor of New York City. Among the items at this memorial museum are the Ground Zero Cross and a fire truck from Ladder Company 3. This rescue vehicle was crushed by falling debris from the Twin Towers, killing the eleven firefighters on board. Nearby is the mass tomb for the more than eleven hundred unidentified remains of the victims of that attack. Now, eighteen years after the terrorist attack on that Tuesday morning, we have students of college age who have no living memory of what America was like on September 10, 2001.
Eighteen years. Imagine all the birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings and other milestone events in life that happened with someone important missing. Empty chairs at celebratory events because those parents, siblings, grandparents, spouses and other family members who rightly should be at such events were among the victims on September 11th. Nearly 3000 people were dead by sunset that day because of the murderous misdeeds of nineteen Islamists whose actions horrified a nation and shattered the lives of individuals. Certainly, the families and survivors of 9-11 will never be able to erase the memories of that day from their minds. But has America begun to forget the significance of what happened on September 11, 2001?
I ponder this question due to a quote from a member of the majority party of the United States House of Representatives who, in a speech earlier this year, described what happened on 9-11 as “… Some people did something.”. I would say this phrase was a poor choice of words on the part of this Representative who, with her words, reduced a national tragedy to a mere incident. Her words gained press attention and controversy, but I believe a point has been missed- Is her demotion of 9-11 from a national tragedy to an unspecified incident a prominent symptom of an American society increasingly forgetting the significance of what happened that day?
I remember many public commemorations of the tragedy being held a decade ago, but the commemorations in New York City, Shanksville, and Washington, D.C. are among the few that remain. Yes, the history textbooks can recount the facts of the event, but is that all that memory of 9-11 is destined to be to future Americans and their society- pages in a textbook and nothing more? Despite the hours of video footage and the plethora of articles printed about the attack and its aftermath, is our society rapidly approaching a time where we forget the significance of the events of 9-11 ?
I do not have the answers to the questions I pose in this statement, but I will conclude with one final question-Is a time coming when future Americans may ask “9-11. What was that all about?”
William E. Plants
URG Chaplaincy Coordinator