It was 11 years ago — Sept. 11, 2001 — that at 8:46 a.m. the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, etc. first came to this nation’s and the world’s attention. Almost 3,000 perished, most but not all Americans. It was an event of such proportions as to have become part of the personal memories of close to 300 million Americans still alive and billions of citizens of Earth.
It was one of those kind of events that are said to “shape us” and turn the course of history.
It today passed, for the first time in the country where it happened, rather quietly. The bells sounded, out of earshot for most Greater Romans, and a small ceremony was held at the Rome-Floyd County Law Enforcement Center: a moment of silence, a prayer, a Last Call ceremony.
A YEAR AGO thousands were drawn to Ridge Ferry Park for a similar event that was a family event, a military/safety personnel event, a patriotic event. Indeed, extraordinary attention had been paid to that day from the year one anniversary of its occurrence onward.
Last year’s big commemoration, which stands in sharp contrast to the one this year, was the 10th anniversary of course, and Americans have a tendency to go for “landmark birthdays” such as 10, 25, 50 with lesser attention paid others even though, harkening back to whatever occurred on that date be it individual birthday or massive death, the number of years that have passed makes no difference. It is what happened alone that holds the importance.
The one a year ago also happened to be the first held after American forces killed the mastermind of the tragedy, Osama bin Laden, in May of 2011. While that went unspoken — we don’t mention Adolf Hitler in the same breath as the heroism of D-Day either — perhaps that colorful event filled with regalia and speeches marked the grand finale of a “current event” as it slid toward “history” status.
THE ENSUING “war on terrorism” continues of course … may for another 100 years … but it is not the same thing. It is not a scar on the national psyche as was 9/11 but more of a gird-our-loins and slog forward obligation.
Getting over and past a trauma is a good thing, or so psychologists will tell you. Still, attention should be paid now and in the future to the words of Elaine Snow, Rome’s police chief, in explaining the reason for the continuing, if lessened, commemoration:
“We don’t ever want to forget. We want the people in the United States to remember we were attacked on U.S. soil. We have to be vigilant to ensure the safety of our country and our future generations.”
The saddening truth is that when current events slide into history status many of the lessons they hold shrink as well.
For example, this is the 150th anniversary period of the greatest national trauma the United States ever went through, the Civil War, and the lessons it held — and huge toll it caused — are being met with only modest and somewhat token remembrance.
OR — QUICK NOW — give the day and year referred to as “a day of infamy that will live in history.” Some 70 years ago all American knew that as well as they now know Sept. 11, 2001. It was Dec. 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
How’s about “the shot heard round the world”? That was the first bullet fired, on April 19, 1775 at Lexington, Mass., and began the Revolutionary War.
Such fading away into a history perhaps not as well taught and stressed in our schools as some other subjects, is perhaps the natural order of things. Events we ourselves “lived through” end up in family scrapbooks that are handed down, all others in textbooks discarded as soon as class is over. Yet such treatment of events, as with how many years ago something happened, has zero actual impact on its original importance.
There are other signs of “things returning to normal” as far as negative aspects of American behaviors are concerned as well.
The World Trade Center Memorial opened a year ago and has since drawn 4.5 million visitors — two reflecting pools with waterfalls where the fallen Twin Towers stood, surrounded by bronze panels naming all those who perished there.
ALREADY THERE are reports of it being treated by some as though it were Disney World — littering, splashing around in the water, parking posteriors on the names of the fallen.
Worse, the below-ground museum that had been scheduled to open today is incomplete and stalled by an argument between local New York governments as to who is on the hook for additional hundreds of millions of dollars. At the same time, a bill in Congress to provide $20 million a year in operating funds is stalled — good grief, our politicians can’t even agree on that?!
There’s also a lawsuit over whether a 17-foot steel girder crossbeam found in the debris by rescue teams, who adopted it as an inspirational symbol, can be displayed because it looks like a Christian Cross. Tip to the judge: It was not deliberately created by humans as a religious symbol, therefore it cannot be considered emblematic of a particular faith.
As Sept. 11 moves toward becoming yet another “day of infamy” and America drifts back to what often looks like “normal” to much of the media but really isn’t, it is perhaps worth pondering how this nation’s history and its people’s patriotism can be better served with regularity, dignity and an eternal flame of memory.
ANOTHER “holiday” won’t really do it, even if on Sept. 11. Such things must live on in our hearts, where the time is always 8:46 a.m., and be passed on via transfusion to the next generations.