September 11, 2009

What's Important Now

I offered the previous post because I found all the 9/11 rememberances popping up on my blog reader this morning morose and depressing, focusing on the violence of the attacks, the tragic loss of life, and the horror of that terrible day. I don't want to minimize or even forget those things. But what we can do about it now is either whip ourselves back into the state of panic and fear that gripped the nation that day while re-mourning our dead, or we can be smart about what to do with our futures.

There are lessons to be learned from 9/11. One lesson is that there are evil people in the world, people who are willing to kill innocents in order to further their own political objectives. Make no mistake, the attacks of 9/11 were a gambit as part of a bid to build a Caliphate. That gambit failed.

This does not mean that there will not be other attempts to perform terrorism, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, and we need to be vigilant and smart about preventing that from happening.

We should not stop being Americans, either. And part of being Americans is being free. I have always said that we are powerful and rich enough that we ought not to have to choose between security and liberty. I still believe that to the core of my being.

With that said, here's a couple of object lessons about 9/11 that may again rub some people the wrong way. But think about it before you jump down my throat.

First, the original World Trade Center took seven years to build, using technology of the 1970's. Eight years after the attacks that took down the towers, Ground Zero remains a large open pit in the heart of downtown Manhattan, with only desultory construction going on. It is not so much a monument to the victims of the attacks of that day as it is a monument to political incompetence.

Second, eight-year-olds, kids who were too young at the time of the attacks to appreciate what was going on, are relatively nonplussed when told about them. To them, it is history, nothing more. And if they aren't of a mind to appreciate and understand history, as so many children in our country are, darkening the classroom to watch a video of the attacks and their aftermath as part of a lesson about 9/11 is "nap time." That may outrage some people a lot. But again, stop and think.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to consign 9/11 to the annals of history. I can understand the horror and outrage of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but I wasn't alive when it did and have only been able to study it as history. Consequently, I have no emotional difficulty accepting national friendship with Japan or personal friendships with Japanese people or business relationships with Japanese companies. We will need to coexist with Arab and Muslim peoples in the future, and to do that we cannot afford to carry around a gigantic chip on our national shoulder labelled "9/11."

And for those of us who do personally remember that day, we should do so to understand the important emotional impact of history. Everything historians study was at one time properly called "current events" or "news." We can understand history better when we remember what it felt like when history happened to us. We can understand current events better when we remember that they are a part of history -- which is an ongoing process, not dry words and lists of dates in an uninspired textbook.

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