Remembering 9/11… almost

By: Darby Ratliff

Opinion Editor

It’s been 14 years. For most of us, it’s our John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination, our Pearl Harbor. The Class of 2019 might be one of the first to see it as history rather than memory, being that many of them were four-or five-year-olds on September 11, 2001. To me, that’s crazy, even though I was only a mere seven-year-old myself, but I’ll always remember that day. I have my own 9/11 traditions: the “Isaac and Ishmael” episode of The West Wing and an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, both centering around the crisis and what it meant for the United States, but what does it really mean to Americans, especially those our age, now?

In 2011, the Pew Research Center said that 97 percent of those who were eight or older on September 11th remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on that day. Only 95 percent of Americans said the same thing about JFK and below that the killing of Osama bin Laden reaches 81 percent. Granted, this window just narrowly misses some of my class, the oldest currently at Canisius. However, we’re part of the largest generation–the Millennials–that sees 9/11 as the most polarizing event in our lives, and we’ve grown up in this post-9/11 culture, though we can hail back to days when it was easier to get through airport security and the War on Terror wasn’t on the news. We’re on the crux of transition: when the current freshman class graduates, the entering class likely won’t even remember 9/11, some of whom won’t have been born yet.

  My little sister told me last year, when I asked, that her teacher sort of explained what happened on 9/11 and showed them “The Falling Man,” a photograph portrayed a man who jumped out of one of the World Trade Center buildings to escape as it fell. It’s this sort of portrayal that concerns me because, as much of a tragedy as that day was, the acts of humanity, kindness, and patriotism shown that day shouldn’t be forgotten. In 2002, according to Pew Research Center,  34 percent of people said that they believed that terrorists had less of a chance launching a successful attack, indicating that Americans had more faith in the government (and its people) to prevent such attacks, given the bravery and nationalism shown the previous year. About 39 percent thought the odds wouldn’t have changed, and 22 percent said that there was a greater chance. However, that number dropped to 29 percent in 2013, with 34 percent saying there was a higher possibility and 36 percent who said it hadn’t changed. Sure, it’s a small indication, the percent change was minor over the 11 years between the two surveys, but it’s still an indicator that things are in flux, that patriotism is decreasing once again. Yet, we got the man behind the attacks, and while al Qaeda and ISIS are still at large, our country has proven its security time and again. Don’t we at least owe it some respect on 9/11, thankful that we don’t have a repeat? Don’t we owe it an increase in faith rather than the inverse?
   I should say now (and perhaps should have earlier) that I had a cousin on the 61st floor of the second tower; in the days following the attack, I wore my first American flag pin and began to understand the story of our nation. Our country is skeptical. I listened to a number of people complain about airport security on my way back from Denver over Labor Day weekend, and yes, it has become strict, but at least it’s done for a reason. I certainly don’t agree with racial profiling, nor do I believe that all rights should be forfeit for the sake of security. Good things come in moderation, and extremes are what brought the tragedy upon us in the first place. However, I do think we should cut this country some slack, at least today, because our government has to live with the fact that 14 years ago, there were a number of attacks on our nation, costing us too many American lives. I think we should also cut each other some slack, especially living in New York state and with many of those around us coming from the city in which the Twin Towers fell.
I also think we should keep in mind those whose lives are not so secure, especially in the Middle East. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and many others are countries whose peoples are not necessarily fans of the United States and our involvement in their affairs. In that episode of The West Wing I mentioned earlier, a high school student asks the Deputy White House Communications Director, “What do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you’re eating in can just blow up without any warning?,” to which he responds, “Israel.” We take a lot for granted, and I think we should be thankful that our nation and government comes together to protect and support us in the wake of tragedy.
I was sitting in the second row of my second grade classroom when the announcement came on to turn on the television. Within the next few hours, I walked home, found out that my impending trip to Disney was cancelled, and learned that my cousin had made it out of New York City, driven to Florida by a friend’s parent. Within the next 14 years, I would meet a number of people whose lives were affected by the tragedy, would hear stories not unlike my own, and it certainly wasn’t until I was older that I understood what it meant to be an American, but retroactively, 9/11 became a clear beacon of patriotism in a nation that regularly criticized its representatives and governments. Nearly all Americans benchmark 9/11 as one of the biggest events in their lives, and we’re just about to hit the point where it’s only going to be history with those born in 2002 and onwards. So today, at the very least, walk through the Quad every chance you get, and respect the symbols of those we’ve lost.

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