Sept. 11 — nine years later. Where were you? What were you doing when you heard? How did it make you feel? Angry? Sad? Afraid? All of the above?
How do you feel now about that day? Or do you feel anything at all?
Over and over and over we heard that brutal and unprovoked attack on America described as “our generation’s Pearl Harbor.” I suppose there are many similarities. In each instance 3,000 or so innocent people were killed. Both attacks came without real warning, although conspiracy theorists abounded after each attack claiming that those in power knew the attack was imminent and chose to allow it to happen.
No. Really. You can look it up. A lot of folks thought FDR allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor so that we would finally be pulled into the war raging in Europe. I know. Crazy, right? But no more crazy than the people who insisted that George W. Bush somehow allowed terrorists to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon so that he and Dick Cheney’s friends could profit from a war in the Middle East.
Remember the days following Sept. 11? Patriotic tunes filled the airwaves. Lee Greenwood sold another million or so copies of “I’m Proud to be an American.” Toby Keith drew criticism as well as praise for his stirring post 9/11 anthem, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and Darryl Worley’s “Have you Forgotten” asked the same question I am asking today — although much more eloquently and in 3/4 time.
The yellow ribbons came out and the home improvement stores couldn’t keep American flags in stock and the church pews were filled on Sundays and we all wanted to attack someone in retaliation but most of us had no idea upon whom we should direct our rage.
That was nine years ago. We have put away our flags and our ribbons and most of our outrage. We have embroiled ourselves in wars on two fronts and historians will forever debate whether those wars were/are necessary or prudent or appropriate. The thousands of men and women who have died and will die on those two fronts had and will have no input into the continuing debate. They went where they were sent and lay their lives on the altar of freedom.
World War II was a united effort. We the people were in general agreement as to who our enemies were and about what we should do about it. The people at home supported the people on the front. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work. They held scrap metal drives and planted victory gardens and accepted the rationing of tires and gasoline and sugar and nylon stockings. And four years after Pearl Harbor Americans were dancing in the streets and sailors were kissing nurses in Times Square as our nation celebrated total victory on two fronts.
Nine years after 9/11 we, as a nation, are about as divided as we have ever been and, quite frankly, we haven’t been at war at all — not on the home front. I mean really — unless one of your family members or loved ones has been deployed, what sacrifice have you been asked to make?
I know. I know. It’s different. There is no black or white, in most people’s minds. There are only shades of gray. The battle is not conventional. There are no fronts, per say. The objectives are no concrete. We are fighting against ideas and ideals and those are a lot harder to conquer than territory and a lot harder to kill than human beings.
So we argue over whether a site two blocks from Ground Zero is an appropriate place to build an Islamic cultural center and we give a hundred times as much attention to a publicity-seeking pastor in Gainesville, Fla., than we do to our troops in the field and we just assume that we are safe and that the bad guys are far away and cannot hurt us again.
For most of us the weekend will pass without our seeing as much as a 30-second clip of those airplanes flying into those towers and most of us will pay little more than slight attention to the anniversary of the most horrific attack ever to take place on American soil.
As the political philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I hope we remember Sept. 11. I hope we all remember.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.