9/11, Footnote or Tool?

It was always bound to happen. December 7th was proclaimed to be a day that would live in infamy, and for some it does. But most young people won’t have a clue what happened that day. Heck, World War II has been reinvented to trivialize concentration camps to prove they were nothing compared to how cops treat black people daily in America.

In one respect, it’s the product of weak minds being twisted to convince even weaker minds that the horror du jour is as bad as the worst horror in history. Is the shooting of Jacob Blake the equivalent of the lynching of Emmit Till? Some would call it “ahistorical.” A blunt person might call it “nuts.” A woke person won’t care because nothing in history matters except for how it can be twisted to serve their impassioned goals of the moment.

Today is September 11th. I’ve written about what happened on this date in 2001 many times over the years, trying not to repeat myself and eventually referring back to my past writing, as it’s not a memory that sits well for me. But I always remembered it. I can’t forget it.

There’s no mention of it on the front page of today’s New York Times. There no remembrance on the op-ed page. There’s much going on in the world, and the Times’ slogan explains. All the news that fits, we print.” This doesn’t fit. “Trump burped” is a headline. 9/11? It’s a historical footnote, a generation removed from the passionate young people to whom the Times caters. And everything that’s happening today was far worse, far, far worse, than anything that ever happened before, except to the extent it feeds their narrative and can be used as a tool to prove whatever it is they desperately need to prove.

Like Pearl Harbor Day, September 11th stands out as a day we were attacked on our own soil. We were attacked by terrorists. Muslim extremists, which brought about an overreaction toward Muslims and people who, to the unsophisticated American eye, might look somewhat foreign in a Muslim-like way.

We blindly reacted as a nation, because that’s how nations tend to react to tragedy. Some of us spent years trying to temper the misguided reactions, the over-reactions, because they too harmed people, and undermined our constitutional rights, which was to some extent the point of the attack on the Twin Towers and elsewhere.

There were lessons, huge, important lessons, learned by living through 9/11. We learned that we were not invulnerable to terrorist attack, no matter how mighty and powerful our nation believed itself to be. We learned our institutions were not invulnerable to attack when we shrugged off the niggling details of law, of civil rights, of hard thought at a moment we were all too taken with our sadness and outrage. We were angry. It made us stupid. It made us blind. It made us do the very things the terrorists wanted us to do, eschew the core of who and what we were and become as vicious and hateful as them.

We allowed ourselves to engage in false wars because of it. Do you remember all the “weapons of mass destruction” experts talking about Bunker Buster Bombs?

For those of us who were close to the Twin Towers, close to the people who died, sat in our desk chair, looking out the window at The Site, as it we called it, and saw every day body parts. airplane parts, and pieces of the World Trade Center scattered on the ground, on ledges, on roofs for months afterward, 9/11 was personal.

To me, this isn’t an historical footnote. It’s not some ancient event to be reimagined by some 20-year-old to justify why he should toss a Molotov cocktail. It’s not a tool to twist in furtherance of whatever delusion inflames you this moment. It happened. Real people died. Huge buildings fell. We learned how fragile our respect for constitutional rights could be when tested. Inter arma enim silent leges.

Did you realize that there are still “enemy combatants” in cells in Guantánamo? They will likely rot there until they die, their potential as a threat long since over, and even worse, no one knows or cares that they’re there. They, too, are forgotten.

This day was bound to come. I knew it. You did too if you thought about it. The day when whatever transitory outrage of the moment was far more important than some dusty old bit of ancient American history that wasn’t really as bad as it seemed, clearly wasn’t as important as the outrage du jour and was no longer relevant to the world of people with an eight-second attention span. Filled with education and indoctrination, but devoid of wisdom and experience.

There are many things happening today, September 11, 2020, that are important and newsworthy. There’s the pandemic. Trump. Forest fires. Trump. Congress’ failure to produce a stimulus bill to enable people to survive the pandemic. Trump. These are all important to us, and important to as at this moment in time. At least we’re sure they are now. Whether they will turn out to be as important in the long term is always a mystery.

History can be weird that way, how the moment’s most important thing ends up being nothing more than an ephemeral twinge that passes uneventfully. What we end up with, however, are changes we make to our foundational system, our respect for rights, law and each other.

For young people, 9/11 is something they read about in books, were told about by their parents or teachers. The lessons of 9/11, about what happened to us and why, about what we sacrificed to the terrorists in a blind outrage over what they did to some as people and others as a nation, are forgotten.

When some survivor of the Twin Towers turns 100, there will be a human interest story on whatever medium prevails when it happens, and people will emote over it. Until then, it will pop up only when it serves some ulterior purpose in whatever bastardized form is needed by its users and abusers. It’s now relegated to the dustbin of history, with only a few of us olds remember what really happened and why.

17 thoughts on “9/11, Footnote or Tool?

  1. Bartleby

    How unfortunately prescient your post is:

    A day I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget as long as I live, no matter how I try. Thank you for sharing your remembrances with us, Scott.

  2. KP

    ” only a few of us olds remember “..what freedoms were taken away then and never given back after we won the war on terror…

    Maybe the next generation will be old enough to remember what freedoms were taken away when Covid19 hit.. and never given back after we’d beaten it.

    Is there a pattern emerging here?

  3. Kirk A Taylor

    I remember talking to young Navy Nuclear Power School students and answering their questions about whether we were going to give them a gun and send them to the middle east.

    I told them to study and graduate…they would get their chance.

    Little did I know that those sailors would be on the cusp of retirement and the wars would still be going on.

    Sorry for the digression…

  4. F. Lee Billy

    What does it mean to Bastardize something or someone? Very thoughtful today, and timely. Scott at his best.

    Still bashing the Times, eh! Furthermore, has anyone ever noticed they don’t publish letters from regular folks at the Times? You must be credentialed to get published. And to think we used to read it every day.

    We assume you like The New Yorker better, since you don’t bash the mag. Incidentally, there’s a really great article about laughing pangolas in a recent issue. It’s a rare far eastern reptile that has some connection to the Covid 19 virus. We recommend.

  5. Skink

    Wasn’t it just yesterday? Motion calendar in Miami before a now-dead judge. Motion granted; justice prevailed. Across the street to pay the guy in the parking lot. The same guy, always and still. Into the car for the ride back to Boca Raton and the office. The radio said something blew up in the City. Something in lower Manhattan. A little farther down the road, there was another in the same place. By Fort Lauderdale, something was happening at the Pentagon.

    That office didn’t have televisions, but I had a small black and white that I took on the golf course, maybe to keep up with an Open or something. The news was ragged, unsure, guesswork. There was chaos. Then a building collapsed, top-down. Then another. Airplanes were involved.

    The window of that office overlooked a golf course tee box. I watched as players passed. In Boca, it was a sure bet some had lived in the City. They were oblivious. I wept.

    The mayor, governor and president spoke. They were angry, but measured. People in the streets spoke. They were angry and ignorant, but still measured. They spoke of what happened and what should be done. They mostly wrung their hands. What else could they do? They knew they didn’t have the answers. Toby Keith wrote a song, then another. Jesus, wasn’t it just yesterday?

    That office is long-gone, maybe even the golf course. I don’t know because I haven’t been in that part of the Swamp in a long time. I still have the television, and for guessable reasons. I’m looking at it.

    Memory’s mile markers cause us to remember what was and now isn’t. If I turn that television on and the mayors, governors and president talk of today’s issues, will the language be measured or even thoughtful? Will the conversation in the streets include I don’t knows? Does Toby have a song for that?

    Wasn’t it just yesterday?

  6. Hunting Guy

    I knew two of the people that died in the Pentagon. Not well, we weren’t drinking buddies but someone that worked in an office down from yours and you’d say “Hi” as you passed in the hallways.

    Funny, I remember their names but can’t remember their faces.

    I talked to several of the people stationed there that day and they told me of the luggage, aircraft engine parts and the smell of jet fuel as they dug through the rubble looking for survivors.

    I remember the idiots that claimed a missile hit the Pentagon.

    I’ve lost friends in this war. I wonder if their names will be on a monument somewhere on the Washington Mall?

    1. SHG Post author

      I wonder if there is a monument, would some later generation tear it down because of reasons we can’t fathom today.

  7. Richard Kopf


    A vignette from flyover country and 9/11:

    Bush 43 flew to Offutt air base near Omaha on 9/11, the site of the United States Strategic Command. There, he was hustled down the back circular stairs of a huge building descending 90 feet and then further down into a unworldly secure bunker. In that super secret room he spoke with and saw his advisors using the most sophisticated communication gear that existed in the world.

    The President made a decision, he would return to the White House. Soon thereafter, a Boeing 747 hurried into the sky toward Washington. Unknown to all but a very view, the 747 was a decoy. The Airborne Command Post, a plane used by generals in wartime emergencies, played the part. It looked almost exactly like the Air Force One.

    With the decoy in the air, the President quickly left for Washington in the real Air Force One. Few people were any the wiser.

  8. Denverite

    Seared in my memory. The largest office in the country outside of the DC headquarters of the place I used to work for was in WTC 7, adjacent to the WTC 1 tower. When the tower fell, the WTC 7 ignited and it collapsed late that afternoon. In my office in Denver we watched the collapse and fire on the tube without knowing if WTC 7 had been successfully evacuated. No one in DC headquarters knew until at least a day or perhaps more whether anyone in that building had survived. All of us knew dozens of people well who worked in the NYC office. It turned out WTC 7 was evacuated in time and no lives were lost there.

    For some reason many seem have settled into a comfortable amnesia where all energy is focused on Cheeto’s or somebody else’s latest twitter outrage. Perhaps we are doing a collective Scarlett O’Hara again (“I won’t think about that today – I’ll think about that tomorrow”) where we have decided to never think about it because the tale doesn’t fit into an easy good guys/bad guys and we won in historic struggle story.

  9. Shane Kelley

    I was 8 years old on 9/11 and only remember certain things about that time. I don’t think many of my fellow young people care to know or reflect on what happened. It’s a shame that the New York Times doesn’t find it important, but it gives me hope that some are still willing to help us learn. Thank you.

  10. Howl

    On a clear day, we could see the WTC towers from where I was working at the time. Upon hearing about the first crash, we crowded around a television. Freak accident was what we thought, until we saw the second plane crash into the other tower. A surreal silence enveloped the room.
    A strange feeling from that day on when looking toward Manhattan, seeing that the towers were no longer there.
    So many folks around here know someone who died that day, or someone who lost a loved one.

  11. Dan J

    I was a senior in high school, struggling with calculus during my free period when the office aid came in and said one tower had fallen, the other was burning, and a plane crashed into the Pentagon. We scoffed, what a ludicrous thing to say! Watching the news coverage later was beyond shocking to me, an invincible 17 year old living in the mighty USA.

    My best friend in college was from Summit, NJ and he remembers going to the top of a parking garage and watching the ruins of the towers smoke. I visited NYC a few times in college, most notably a few days after the subway reopened going through the hole where the tower used to be. It was quite a sobering sight to look up at the emptiness.

  12. JR

    I remember being worried about my niece. She was just engaged to K and he was 9 months away from finishing West Point. He and his class members had already committed to joining the Army. At the time one of the cable networks had a show on called, “Surviving West Point”. K’s class was the subject matter of the show. if you go back and watch it, K got some air time. Most of the show followed M, his K’s buddy and best man later on. Maybe not right away, but everyone of that class knew they were going to war.

    Lucky for K he did very well and got a choice first assignment in Germany. It didn’t last long as the whole unit was shipped out to Iraq. This left his new bride alone in the middle of a country she really didn’t understand. Even with the support groups on base, she had a very hard time. After K got back from Iraq, he completely Ranger school and continued to move up. The niece didn’t like Army life much and he went into the reserves as soon as he could. He continued to advance.

    His pal M also kept moving up, stayed un-attached and when he stops in around the holidays to see his family and friends we we whisper, nudge, and wink when talking about what he is doing lately in the Army.

    This weekend we are going to K’s last change of command ceremony. He is leaving the reserves as a Lt. Col. The niece will now longer have to worry about K and his role in the Army after all these years.

  13. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    Like Shane, I was 8. In third grade at an elementary school near DC. I only remember it was a beautiful day, and that we were told at lunch that school would end early because of a threat. I didn’t know what terrorists were and assumed there were people going around threatening schools. Daydreamed about stopping them and being a hero.

    Now it’s 2008. I’m 15, flying in to NYC on my first visit I can remember. Wanted to go to the One World Trade Center site, but my parents wouldn’t have it. Too much to do, I guess, too much to see, so I shrugged and acquiesced. I did manage to bring a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV home, despite its M rating.

    2016, all grown up and visiting on my own. Had been to Barcelona earlier that year and spent much of that trip mooning over the Sagrada Familia. Finally got to see OWTC up close. It’s impressive in a similar league, and I liked craning my head up, up towards the spire and seeing what that did to my perception. Wasn’t sure the tower really connotes healing, though. Figured I’d leave that call to New Yorkers.

    2018, in town with a Ukrainian friend who wanted to walk around as much of Lower Manhattan as possible. Thought it was a great plan. Was looking at the tower when he called me over to the memorial and pointed to one of the names in the bronze. Ukrainian name, he said. I’d never have noticed.

    Finally, yesterday, on a hike with my girlfriend. Little long-abandoned concrete outbuilding in the woods. Someone stenciled Bush 43’s face on there a couple times, except Bush is wearing a clown nose. I don’t know if it counts as remembrance. But I saw, and I wasn’t unhappy to think of him.

  14. HB

    I have to admit engaging in a bit of Scarlett O’Hara behavior myself this year. On top of all the other stressors we currently face, thinking about 9/11 just seemed like too much. Keep your head down and plow through the day. As is clear from the comments section here, all one has to do is bring up remembrance of the day, and the stories will flow. Best avoided, I thought, yet here I am having my remembrance three days late.

    It’s amazing that half the population doesn’t really remember 9/11. I was watching the Tour de France recently and upon learning that one of the riders was born in 1997, it struck me as odd that this adult on the screen would have been four years old when the attacks happened. Where has the time gone?

    I sat in a conference room the morning of 9/11, undergoing training for something I can’t recall. I was 23 years old. A coworker popped his head in the room to say a plane had hit the WTC, and everyone just kind of went about their business. It wasn’t until a few minutes later when he returned to say a second plane had struck that triggered the most memorable part of a day filled with too many of them: A woman in the conference room stated to nobody in particular, “Oh my god, we’re going to go to war.” Those words seared themselves into my young brain, and I have never forgotten them, or the fact that she understood so much more than I about the way the world works.

    Thanks for getting me to remember.

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