On this anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we once again hear the phrase that was so often repeated ten years ago: “Never Forget!” I believe we owe it to those who died that day to remember who they were and how they died, but it always seemed that many people meant far more than this when they would utter those words. It was as if they were magic words to invoke a shroud of justification for any act of hatred that seemed righteous, and no malice was evil as long as the words were spoken. Like ‘Remember the Maine’ got us into the Spanish American War despite no actual provocation by Spain. Just as “Never forget what they did to us on Nine Eleven” was and is still used as a reason to justify any action against anyone who was Muslim- or might be- “Support our troops” was only accepted as sincere if it was implied that you also meant “… by sending them to kill and die.” Right here in America we saw people dismiss the rights of others and give up their own rights whenever magic words were uttered. Many of those exact same people now blame their political opponents for letting them do so, and while they never forget “9-11”, they forget that it was their own party that used 9-11 to start unwinnable and unsustainable conflicts that now need to be cleaned up so our troops can come home.
I remember 9-11. That day, that week, was heavy on all of us. I was delivering training 2000 miles from home. Not only did it look like I may not soon make it home to my family, who were all feeling my absence very keenly, but there is no way to make training engaging and exciting without humor, and that week, no humor could seem appropriate, nothing we were doing seemed so important to the students, and it was just a bad experience. The building we were in had a mural of the New York skyline in the lobby where we would take our breaks. Each of us felt what was going on personally as well as feeling wounded as a nation. As it turned out, my flight departed on time, a day after flights resumed, and I felt bad for the people stranded by earlier flights that were still being rebooked as I boarded my flight, but my kids needed me as much as their kids needed them, I told myself.
In the following weeks, a new sense of community seemed to well up. We were all Americans, we were all together. I remember that. Despite the events that brought it about, that was a good thing. It did not take long for folks to start using it to ill advantage. George W Bush had campaigned in the Republican primary on the platform of a regime change in Iraq. I remember that from well before 9-11. Sure enough, the bubbling stew of hatred for anyone Muslim and the new patriotism could be hijacked to get the War they had wanted in Iraq all along, and if you were not with us, you were against us, even if you were a citizen. If you dared ask, “don’t you even care if all of these pretexts have been proven false?” the answer was “what, have you forgotten 9-11 already?” No, I hadn’t. I had also not forgotten that Adolf Hitler had used the bombing of a National Monument to arouse hatred for Jews. It seems some of our leaders had not, either.
Here is what I choose to remember about 9-11:
Thousands of innocent people died at the hands of religious fanatics, and this can happen again in a number of ways.
Hundreds of heroic individuals ran into the burning building to save lives, and many, many lives were saved in the process. And hundreds of heroes died. There is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for another.
Here is what I dare not forget about 9-11
When people are hurting, someone can and will take advantage of their pain to advance their own agenda.
People who are scared will look for leadership and prefer a strong leader to a good one. FDR was right that we have nothing to fear more than fear itself. Look at how we have given up the freedom to travel without harassment, much of our privacy, and the willingness to trust one another.
What do you mean when you say “Never Forget”?