The members of this generation of college freshman were only 5 or 6 years old on that day 12 years ago that we remember today. Not quite old enough to have strong memories of planes crashing into buildings or the wave of fear and pain that swept the world in the aftermath. This generation has grown up in a state of perpetual war, coming to think of it as the normal way of the world. So, how we choose to remember and teach the next generation about what happened on September 11th will shape how they understand the past and create their own future.
So, what happened on that day 12 years ago? We all know the basics: the planes, the buildings, the first responders and air traffic controllers. We know about the fear, the devastation, the lives lost and the vigils. Do we remember the whole world watching in shock? Do we remember the candles lit in Tehran, or the fact that the Taliban renounced the attack? Do we remember the reasons that Osama bin Laden gave as his justification for the attacks? The abuse of Palestinians and the US sanctions in Iraq that had killed 500,000 children? If we don’t remember these things we are not remembering the fullness of the context of 9/11. When we choose to see it as a senseless attack, and not as a response to actions our government had taken in the Middle East, we fail to understand the full context of the events of that day. Of course, I am not justifying the terrible actions taken by al-Qaeda or bin Laden, but only hoping to help us learn from that day.
If we can look at history not only through our lenses as Americans, but through our lens of humanity, we can see how war has begat war, violence and colonization has begat terror and fear. Only then can we learn from that day, learn from the past 12 years of war, learn from those lives lost. We remember that day and the context that created it and we learn. We learn how to be circumspect about the action we take overseas. We learn that our actions have consequences. We learn that in the future, we want to treat the world around us like we want to be treated. We learn that an American life is of no more value than the life of an Afghan. We learn that death is painful. We learn that if we act out of revenge, our enemies will act out of revenge and the cycle will not be broken. We learn that our humanity is the common denominator.
We remember so that we don’t have to copy the mistakes of our mothers and fathers. We remember so that those lives would not have been lost in vain. We remember so that we can create the kind of world where terror can not reign and hate cannot rule. We remember so that we might change.