I stumbled across it quite by accident two weeks ago…what purported to be the only photo in existence of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers in New York 18 years ago. And this photo was accompanied by a caption that said something like “Never forget” or “We must always remember.”
I have many thoughts about remembering, forgetting, and perhaps even the importance of allowing things to be forgotten. Some of these I’ve talked about before, and some will wait for some other time. But right now, a week after the 18thanniversary of that terrible day, I want to talk about how we remember.
Because how we remember, and what it does to us is important.
18 years. That’s a long time, and yet, not a long time. To put this into perspective, let me talk about something that happened 15 years before I was born…Pearl Harbor. Obviously, I don’t remember whether or not it was still a raw wound in June of 1956. I don’t recall whether or not it was still a raw wound in December of 1959, 18 years after the attack…when I was three years old. I probably wasn’t even aware of a thing called Pearl Harbor until I was about 10 or 12 years old…a good 25 years later, by which point, as horrific as it was to people who remembered it, it was the stuff of history books to any Baby Boomer who wasn’t from a military family or didn’t grow up in Hawaii.
But there is one thing I was aware of once I became aware of what Pearl Harbor was, and that was how the desire to “Remember Pearl Harbor”, and by extension, the people killed in that attack turned into a hatred of the Japanese. Not just those who planned the attack, not just those who were ordered to carry it out, not just the civilians trying to live out what they could of a normal life during wartime…but of all Japanese. Americans of Japanese ancestry (can you say “Manzanar”?) and Japanese who weren’t even born during the war. Our desire to “not forget” metastasized into a hatred of Japanese that lasted for decades; and it’s only within the past 20 years or so that the Japanese, along with other Asians, have come to be seen as “model minorities” rather than examples of the “yellow peril.”
What am I getting at? 18 years after the attacks of September 11th, what has happened to our resolve to “never forget” or to “always remember”? Has it been something that would honor those who were killed that day, or has it, like what happened to the Japanese in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, metastasized into a hatred of Muslims…all Muslims.
I think that we all know the sad answer to that question. An answer that shows that we didn’t learn a lesson from the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
But really, how do we remember those we lost? How do we remember them and honor their lives? Do we remember them by seeking vengeance on “those people”, whether they were involved or not, and forgetting that they too live in fear of those extremists? Or do we more properly remember them by trying to make the world a better place for all of us…a place where there aren’t any violent extremists from any religion? And let’s admit that there are Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists, Buddhist extremists, and others, as well as Muslim extremists…all of whom give a bad name to the religions they purport to represent. I think that if we’re wise, we know what the answer to that is.
The question now is, how many of us are wise?