Tilly: Forgetting September 11


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Twelve years after 9/11, we’ve finally reached the point where incoming freshmen — most of whom were about 6 years old at the time — have little working memory of that day. Nothing against them; they had no control over when they were born.

(I was only 9, and I was very aware at the time of my pitifully limited knowledge of what exactly was going on. I imagine 6-year-olds were even more confused.)

As the last 9/11-kids pass into adulthood, we ought to take some time today to face up to the mortality of our memories, like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner — “all these moments will be lost in time, like tears … in … rain.”

As the pendulum swings from news to history, as an ever-larger proportion of the population has no personal connection to 9/11, we’ve all got a decision to make.

Should we take a lesson from the nation’s faded bumper stickers and the edges of exploitative collectable coins and ‘never forget’?

Or should we move on, stop writing stories every year, and leave the debate about the legacy of 9/11 to historians as we’ve done for past tragedies that have slipped quietly into antiquity?

I tend to think we should choose the latter. We seem to have collectively established an emotional distance from events like Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, or Hurricane Katrina, so why do we insist on keeping 9/11 so close?

I suspect that our habit of dredging up these bad memories every year is a kind of vigil we hold — not for the people who died in the attacks, necessarily — but for ourselves. The columns we write every Sept. 11 invariably focus not on the victims of the attack, but on the writers’ memory of their own fear and grief.

We looked at 9/11 not so much as a tragic loss of life but as the opening of a new era of uncertainty. Our safety, our way of life, our views of the world were suddenly up in the air. We found ourselves waiting in line at gas stations because we may or may not have been on the verge of a Mad Max-ian apocalypse.

It’s so rare that we feel the world change instantaneously, but that’s what we felt at 9/11, and it was scary. That feeling persisted through a few new wars perpetuated by fear.

But now that we have some distance, we can see how little really changed in our world as a result of that attack. We’re caught in the same fights, in the same places we’ve fought for years. Our enemies today aren’t so different from our enemies of old.

Our security proved tighter than we imagined, and our enemies less capable. We haven’t been attacked again, thankfully.

Our lives were changed far more by the fall of Lehman Brothers than the fall of the World Trade Center.

We’ve reached a point today, after more than a decade, where we can look back at 9/11 in its full context, without that cloud of uncertainty. We can see it now for what it is — a tragic loss of life and a cruel act of war — rather than a harbinger of a bleak future.

After all these years, we can finally allow ourselves a bit of closure. We can allow ourselves to forget.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.