AMEND CORNER: Reflecting on an attack

Posted 9/8/11

I remember the first anniversary of that horrific day. I was a new resident of Powell at the time, and wasn’t really a part of the community yet, but I attended the memorial event at Washington Park. I don’t remember much about it, except the …

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AMEND CORNER: Reflecting on an attack


What else is there to say about 9/11?

In the decade since those horrible images filled our television screens, the attacks have been the subject of untold volumes of analyses, commentaries or just plain emotional venting by politicians, commentators, scholars, preachers and just about everyone else who has the ability to write and a place to put their writing before the public.

The incident has been decried, mourned, analyzed and speculated on in just about every form of media out there, not to mention on street corners and in living rooms and bars all over America.

As a consequence, it would seem just about everything that can be said has been said.

Still, the 10th anniversary of this event demands comment from those of us who comment on such things, so I feel compelled to do so, even though I am probably just saying things you have heard already — probably a thousand times.

I remember the first anniversary of that horrific day. I was a new resident of Powell at the time, and wasn’t really a part of the community yet, but I attended the memorial event at Washington Park. I don’t remember much about it, except the singing of the PHS choir, but I was there because that’s where I thought I should be.

I also attended the observance last year at the fire hall. It was not well attended, and I have to admit that, had I not been there to take photos for the Tribune, I might have skipped it, too.

That’s quite a change, but it’s not unusual. Even though it’s been only 10 years since the attack, it is fading into the background for me, and I suspect that’s true of many, if not most of us.

In a way, that’s normal, even healthy. Memories fade over the years, and eventually, no matter how terrible a given event was, people push it into the background. It’s actually fortunate that we are able to do so. Dwelling on the past makes it more difficult to cope with present problems and concerns about the future, so unless we are reminded of an event, even one that has had a tremendous impact on our lives, we tend to forget it.

Still, as I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, it’s important to remember our history, and why we need to be reminded of historical events by memorials such as those planned for this weekend.

But simply remembering the 9/11 attack with displays of patriotic fervor isn’t enough. Nor is it enough if the memorial simply revives the sorrow, the anger and the fear that we felt 10 years ago. If that’s all a memorial does, we are merely dwelling on the past, not learning from it. Fear and anger generally do not lead to rational thinking and decision making. At some point, we have to get past them to understand just what happened.

Moreover, while we were terribly wronged on that day 10 years ago, we have to get past that and try to understand just why such hatred was directed at us in the first place, and we have to accept the notion that our own actions and attitudes no doubt contributed to that hatred.

It is also important to put the attack in the proper perspective. While it has often been compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the two attacks don’t really have much in common. An attack by a couple dozen people who had to steal planes to do it doesn’t quite compare to an attack by a well-equipped and highly disciplined military and backed by the power of a nation-state.

It’s also important to put the attackers in perspective. While they were definitely motivated by religious fanaticism, the attack on us was aimed at our government and our economic power, not our religion. Otherwise, the terrorists would have aimed the 747s at the Washington Cathedral, not the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. And while the attack was costly to Americans, in the end, Al Quaeda has killed far more Muslims than it has Christians, and far more Iraqis and Afghans than it has Americans.

We might also think carefully about what we have done to ourselves over the last 10 years as a result of those attacks. Have we compromised our own freedom in the interests of security? Have the wars we have been fighting really decreased the chances of another attack? Are our current economic problems caused in part by the expense of fighting those wars? These and many other questions need to be considered seriously.

It is important that we observe 9/11 this weekend. We should remember those who performed heroically in the aftermath of the attack, the innocent people who lost their lives and the more than 3,000 children who lost a parent in the attack.

But the observance should not merely dwell on the past; it also should trigger reflection on the attacks that can help us avoid such conflict in the future. Just remembering it won’t help us much.