September 11, 2013—the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City.
Many people have been posting images of gently rippling American flags or upright parallel lines representing the demolished twin towers of the World Trade Center. They all seem to embrace this simple phrase:
Never forget? Any American who was over the age of eight in 2001 will never forget that day. (I was eight years old when JFK was assassinated, and it’s one of the clearest memories of my childhood.) So let’s assume that none of us will forget the fear and horror we felt on 9/11/2001, aided by dumbstruck media that could think of nothing to do but play the most frightening images of the attack over and over and over to a disbelieving, mesmerized public. Those images are branded on our collective subconscious.
So why this persistent admonition to “Never forget?”
Seriously, there are things about that day and the months following that I would be more than happy to forget. I would love to forget the anger, the wrath, the bloodlust, the mindless quest for revenge that gripped the American people in the aftermath of the attack. A bloodlust egged on by a ruthless regime with a secret agenda, a regime that could barely refrain from licking its lips that world events had played so conveniently into its hand. A quest for revenge brought to a fever pitch by media addicted to all things sensational and controversial—exploiting anything possible to make a buck. A demand for vengeance that spurred us to assault and destroy a country that had nothing to do with those responsible for the attack on our soil.
I would love to forget the in-your-face nationalism that spread across America, the kind that made you stop and look over your shoulder before you expressed anything that might possibly be construed as “traitorous” if there were strangers within earshot.
I would love to forget the post-9/11 canonization of George W. Bush as the “War President,” and the carte-blanche handed his administration by an American people desperate for moral leadership in a time of national crisis. Bush and his cronies so failed in this regard that it hardly bears thinking about, much less never forgetting.
I would love to forget that 9/11 was a key tool used by nefarious forces to exaggerate opposing opinions among the American electorate, and to ramp up the volume and violence of the political rhetoric across a widening ideological divide between “right” and “left.”
Looking now at these things I would love to forget…I realize that these are indeed the aspects of the 9/11 tragedy that America at large has forgotten. And that these…THESE are the things that we must not forget. Because these are the mistakes we made, blinded by shock and sorrow and anger. Understandable mistakes. Forgivable mistakes. But only forgivable if we do not forget, so that we do not make the same mistakes again.
As for the anniversary, in addition to “never forgetting” the blunders we made as a nation and a society in the aftermath of 9/11, why not choose “honor?”
Honor the dead.
Honor the heroes.
Honor those who came together to try to heal the great pain of a battered city, of a wounded nation.
If we elect to “honor” anniversaries such as this, we stand a better chance of learning, of growing, indeed of surviving as a nation.
Let us choose honor.