This morning on my drive to work, I was thinking about how weird it feels that it has been seventeen years since the September 11th terror attacks. I imagine many other people were doing the same thing. The sense of “weirdness” stems from the fact that events like that have a way of staying remarkably fresh in your memory, even when almost twenty years have passed.
We’re told every year on the anniversary to “never forget” and to “remember” September 11, 2001. That’s well and good, but I wonder how many people actually could forget. I was almost 11 at the time and I remember it very vividly. In fact, I would say that is the one day that I remember most of the details from my childhood.
I remember seeing the news footage, of course. The footage of the planes crashing, the towers collapsing, the pentagon smoking, the wreckage of Flight 93,and President Bush’s address to the nation.
I remember spending most of the morning at an impromptu prayer meeting my mom went to, and the conversations I had with my friends.
I remember that afternoon my mom assigning my sister and I to write down where we were and what we were thinking on that day, but I have no idea where it went. I would like to read what I wrote.
I remember going to my sister’s soccer practice that afternoon and hanging out on the park playground.
I remember wondering if the world was going to end that night. I thought maybe Jesus would come back that day.
I remember in the following days hearing for the first time names and words like, Al Qaeda, Jihad, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Afghanistan. As I saw the news footage of the first bombs dropping, I thought this war would be over in a couple years. I knew from my own fascination with history that most American wars lasted about 4-5 years, excluding Vietnam. Seventeen years later, U.S. forces are still in Afghanistan, making this the longest war we have ever fought.
I remember almost every cover of Newsweek that came in the mail for the following three months. That’s when I really started reading the news. I was fascinated by what was going on and had a sense that the world had permanently changed. It’s sounds cliche, but I did think that, even at 11. But maybe I’m just weird.
When I was in college, ten years into the War on Terror, I took a class on religion and violence and read a book on religiously-motivated terrorism called Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Jeurgensmeyer. In that book, I learned that terrorism is effective because it is a form of theater. The power of a terrorist act is the spectacle it creates. It’s random, it indiscriminately targets innocent people, and it aims to send a message by strategically attacking targets that stand for something. The aim of terrorism is partly to create memories that can never be forgotten.
In that sense, the September 11th attacks were pretty effective. While Al Qaeda might be mostly destroyed and Bin Laden has been dead for almost seven years, the memories of the day itself stay fresh in our consciousness and likely will for the rest of our lives. Is it possible to forget? I don’t think so.