The events of 9/11 focused the attention of the country like no other event in history. Seeing their greatest buildings imploding was, for many, the most traumatic and horrifying footage Americans had ever seen. Now, a year later, we, the living, have assumed the task of remembering those who have fallen. As anniversaries go, “9/11 plus one” may have been one of the most interesting.
The memorial and remembrance services held in churches, parks and cemeteries from California to Washington, D.C., were somber occasions, but there was something unusual about these memorials. It was as though the memory of 9/11 was never allowed to fade from the public consciousness before it was dredged up again with all the fury and fanfare that CNN and the other major and minor networks could muster.
Children who watched archival footage of the World Trade Center falling, studies has shown, have difficulty distinguishing between the real events and those they are seeing. In other words children who see the graphic video of the plane crashes think it is happening all over again. In some ways this reflects on the larger public consciousness of America – time has moved on since September 11, 2001 but in many ways our country has not.
Part of this is the inevitable “what if” questions, but there is more to our fixation with 9/11 than a quest for answers. In some ways our country seems to enjoy having been attacked. That now, like the rest of the world, battle has scarred our land. We enjoy the vulnerability and the mandate for defensive action that 9/11 has given us. And this first attack was recorded for the rest of the world in style, live on TV.
It is doubtful a day has gone by without mention of the 9/11 attacks on the front page of one newspaper or on national news. As a country we are consumed to the point of obsession with “the day,” “the aftermath,” “the economic, cultural, religious, military, personal and psychological effect” of September 11.
Many have called for the day to be a federal holiday, in the vein of Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day. Everyone, without exception, with whom I have discussed this proposal has thought it a poor idea. On the surface many have said such a holiday would have the unavoidable consequence of school children looking forward to 9/11 as a day off from school. Undoubtedly this would be so, as children have little appreciation for the true nature of holidays like Veteran’s Day in the first place.
Others have mentioned that such a national holiday would be, in true American fashion, an excuse for a sale. Some would say, after all, what better way to remember the lives of people who died at work. Firefighters, office workers, military in the Pentagon all died doing the work they had made their lives. It might have been the day that the world changed, but it didn’t change our country that much.
It seems that the greatest danger in making 9/11 a national holiday would be the unavoidable “us vs. them mentality.” Allow me to explain. Holidays like Veteran’s Day, which began in 1926 as Armistice Day following the end of World War I, are designed to honor Americans who have fought for our country in war. Memorial Day honors those who have been killed in the line of duty defending our country. These two holidays are general days of mourning we, as a country, have agreed on to pay our collective respects to those who have gone before in all conflicts.
But 9/11 is different. Having a federal holiday on 9/11 runs the risk of endorsing anti-Arab sentiments. The “fault,” which is to say those directly responsible for the attacks, lies with one group – unfortunately the terrorists were all of one religion.
If it is true, as many said at the time that this was an act of war, then the war is not over. More tragedy may yet befall us, and the prospect of proclaiming a national holiday for those killed in the war on terrorism before the war is over seems ill-timed. However, if the attacks of 9/11 were a crime, albeit on a massive scale, then the idea of a national holiday again is challenged. There are no federal holidays that recognize the victims of crime, though these deaths are no less significant.
We are charged as a nation to remember and honor those who have died in the tragedy. It is doubtful that anyone who lived through these events will ever forget what happened. Our challenge, then, is to move on from the events and learn from them.
-The writer, a senior majoring in history, Hatchet metro news editor.