Likens: 9/11 overlooked but not forgotten
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 23:09
In a country where war was discussed for generations as a force of nature, as distant as Saharan sandstorms and as unlikely as meteor strikes, something that occurs in distant lands to weak, unguarded nations, an act of immeasurable violence was thrust suddenly into the public forum. At a time when the memories of Pearl Harbor had faded into mere history lessons, and Cold War paranoia had subsided, an unprepared nation found themselves face-to-face with the modern incarnation of war and their own frailty as a people. The story of 9/11 is, in the most tragic sense, a coming of age tale for the American citizen of the time—a true loss of innocence. And it is one that has been felt everywhere.
In its wake, every aspect of American life was irreparably altered. We think first, of course, of metal detectors and wiretapping, when a more subtle, equally telling phenomena began filling our homes. Also rocked by the sudden changes, our own entertainment became horrified of offending us.
A 1997 episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer visits the World Trade Center, was entirely removed from circulation for several years, and a completed script to a Forest Gump sequel—a guaranteed fortune for anyone involved—was rejected on account of the main character being present at the Oklahoma City bombing.
Censorship became an epidemic in every industry; entertainment’s makers and shakers snipped the cord on any projects that could even possibly rub against the wounds, while feverishly buffering out any vaguely offensive material from whatever media was already on the table.
In both entertainment and politics, a theme of unprecedented patriotism experienced a boom many of us had never witnessed before in our lives. Subsequent conflict in Afghanistan and the infamously unpopular Patriot Act rode in on the fad. No one would argue that the miniature flags and bumper stickers of September 12 came swiftly and powerfully, and few, no matter their political beliefs, would argue that with the sudden high sunk a gradual low.
Actions came to reactions a thousand times over, and as waning faith in the American government grew with the disapproval ratings, a once emotionally-fueled wave of patriotism became looked upon in retrospect with more cynical eyes. The masses were displeased. We feared manipulation and perhaps that is what we got. Only time will tell how we remember those events, and later, how our grandchildren will revise and reedit them.
Over a decade has passed. Many of us who were merely children at the time of the attacks now pay our rent, argue with our spouses and discuss gas prices with coworkers. How many of us actually remember an America before September 11, 2001? Fewer and fewer.
I myself, pulled from my fourth grade class, vaguely recall first hearing of the attacks from my mother—her face wrought in brief confusion, thinking, worrying how best to explain an event so large and a motive so complex. A man who confidently claims he could illustrate the full spectrum of these events in a single sitting has naively mistaken a Rubik’s Cube for a crossword puzzle, scrawling in his own thoughts and impressions into the blocks to create a nearsighted half-truth.
There are few overstatements as great as to say that one may always find a silver lining. Some things merely are what they are. But even in such events, ones where there is no inherent good to be found, we may still learn something of value: perspective.
Already we begin to see the antiquating of September 11. Children who have no memories of the attacks whatsoever are now the age I was at the time, gathering memories of their own, learning and growing into future historians. As the years pass, they will discuss the subject with relative distance, and their children even more so.
The shockwaves that warp our lives today will be regarded by future Americans as unseen catalysts to their own status quo. September 11 will go the way of Pearl Harbor, the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and the American Civil War. Tragedy in sepia, disarmed and unappreciated.
We have all suffered, always. Every American. Every human. It is with this knowledge we must look to the past with respect, accept the present with compassion, and prepare for the future with selflessness. Although there is no condolence great enough for the loss of so many lives, and the effects it has had on us all, we may take solace in the knowledge that we are not alone. We have never been.