I spent most of yesterday doing what I do every September 10th: reading articles and watching videos about the 9/11 attacks and wishing that 9/11 Truthers would shut up and go away. They’re like neo-Nazis in that you almost never meet them in person but they’re absolutely everywhere on the Internet. Every bit as deluded too. I’ve noticed that there’s quite a bit of crossover, I might add.
Anyway, I can’t stand them. But this isn’t about them. It’s something else. While we were having our Sunday family dinner I asked my young daughter Thrilla, “Is your school doing anything in remembrance of 9/11 tomorrow?”
“No,” she replied. “Nobody really knows what it is.”
I should clarify here that she knows full well what happened. I’ve explained it to her before and she’s read about it. It’s just that kids in general, the ones she goes to school with, don’t feel any connection to it. You can tell them about how it was a history-changing event, but does that really mean anything to somebody who can’t remember what the world was like before it happened? My daughter knows about 9/11 but will never really comprehend it the way I might think she “should”.
Most Millennials “get” 9/11 because they saw it and saw how it affected their parents. It was sort of a cold, hard “Your childhood is over, motherfuckers” moment for many of them. It’s a very vivid memory for us older people, but you know what? I feel no connection to the JFK assassination. I know that it represented a sort of change in eras, when Americans first started to become suspicious of government and the end of Camelot and all that but I’ll never be able to connect it to my own life in a meaningful way.
The kids just don’t know what changed. To them, the adults have always been paranoid and their country has always been in some neverending war with vague goals and stakes. It just continues but they’re not affected by it. War is Peace, right? They don’t know what the pre-9/11 world was like and can’t understand why 9/11 was so shocking to us and had an impact beyond the horrible sights broadcast on every television.
It was a better world, wasn’t it? Saner, less troubled. The economy was still good. The world seemed more peaceful. We didn’t seem to have any serious enemies with the Cold War long over, aside from Saddam Hussein and a few minor dictators and war criminals like him. Nothing was perfect, but wouldn’t you love to have had the America of September 10th continue forever instead of the September 12th one we have now? It was so laid back by comparison. Most of you are old enough to remember the 1990’s. Am I remembering it through rose-colored lenses? Is there anything now, socially or culturally or politically, that you think is better than it was then? Maybe gays are better off in some ways, but I’m challenged to think of much else.
Children will never understand how we thought we were in the best of times. We can’t go back, of course. We can’t forget 9/11 because we remember what we lost. What changed. For us that world is gone forever and we can never let our guard down, never believe that the wars can end, and never believe that it’s really going to be okay.
Not so for the kids. To them, it’s something grown-ups discuss but they really don’t understand it. It’s as remote to them as the Battle of Pearl Harbor. 9/11 is now history. To the new generation, it’s just another date and another boring fact. Like everything else in history is to them. Does it bother you to realize that?
I’m actually happy about it. Without the fear and anguish we feel over that event, the kids are free to avoid the mistakes we have made in dealing with the threats that 9/12 presented to us. They will have the option to face it all rationally. The very notion that there can be a peaceful, prosperous world didn’t end for them on 9/11. There’s nothing stopping them from imagining that it is still ahead of them. The future can be a better place.
I’m not saying we all need to get over 9/11. I can’t. I don’t think any of us really can. We’re all traumatized by it to some degree, whether we admit it or not. However, I am happy that my children are unburdened by it. I want them to know the lessons of history, but free of our fear and bitterness. It is possible to know history without being haunted by it.
We don’t have to let 9/11 go. Just let it pass away. Let it be history and keep the hurt in the past.