For those of us who experienced 911 the answer is definitely yes. Yet, even for people who were there, it becomes hard to convince everyone of the relevance of a fifteen year old tragedy, no matter how epic it was. For those that said “We will never forget” many years ago, the passion is no longer there with the same energy and forgetting may very well have started. For just about anyone, putting on an American flag pin, as everyone did back then in the months after September 11, would now seem ludicrous though at the time it made sense to an amazing degree. What is most maddening is that there are children who have no memory of 911 who will soon be adults. That’s the way life progresses.
So is it time to “let it go”? Considering the scourge of ISIS, the answer has to be no. But how to convince young people or people who’ve let the memory fade that the second major attack on American soil in all of American history is relevant, especially when ISIS attacks are on their T.V.s now. Does the urgency of now make history, all history, meaningless?
The answer should be no. The fact that 911 was the second major attack on American soil is only part of what makes it so significant an incident. From my perspective, what may be more important, is that we lost our innocence as a nation that day. Being in Manhattan in the weeks after 911, I was able to see a smaller but concentrated version of our countries loss of innocence. There was a look in people’s eyes, a sense of the ground being pulled out from under us, of no longer being children being cradled in the arms of our nation, but frightened adults left on their own. There were countless reports of children as far away as Australia seeking therapy to deal with the terror of what they had seen on their televisions. It was a vicarious loss of innocence that overtook the world. That was the plan of Osama Bin Laden. And now the plan of ISIS.
For me there is no option to forget as is the case for thousands of people. I have respiratory issues that haven’t gone away and get slightly worse as each year goes by. I was in the subway, in an unmoving train that had stopped because the towers were coming down, though we didn’t know it at the time. And each year as the anniversary day approaches and the inevitable documentaries start cropping up like weeds, I f eel a familiar sense of loss and depression.
But I didn’t die that day. And neither did anyone I knew.
So what is the point of beating my breast about 911. It’s what we lost. And if I may be so bold to make a complicated analysis I think we are seeing the result of that loss in our current Presidential election. There was a time that I can remember when the level of vitriol and divisiveness we’ve seen would have been poison to any candidate in the America that was the land of the free and the home of the Constitution. Without doubt. A nation needs values and we’ve lost touch with ours. Yes of course I’m talking about Donald Trump. But this isn’t an anti-trump rant. It’s about what we were and what we’ve become.
In many ways I will say that the terrorists who perpetrated 911 lost, for the most part. New York, in its sledge hammer way is still moving forward. We have a new tower, something significant, though I would have wished for a repeat of the old model; that would have been a fine screw you to the psychopaths who killed 3000 people.
But all in all no one can kill New York City and the USA. Except in one way, a subtle way that we are not even aware of. If it was intentional then it was quite a coup. It involves a small thing called the Constitution and the Bill or Rights. Both have been a hot potato for years. Some people have always thought that it was obstruction, a road block, a speed bump for personal agenda masquerading as patriotism. Some look at it as the closest thing to divinity outside of the Bible. And for good reason: it was the first time in history where the rights of the individual are emphasized over the rights of a regime. It has never been stated in the same way: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
I am from the latter, constitutionalist school, a fan of the constitution. And what we’ve lost IS the constitution. Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father, had it right. It will be easy for you to ignore a man with darker skin than yours and a silly accent. Just like my grandmother who was a Jewish woman with a strange accent, someone who no one trusted back in the early part of the twentieth century and who gave me a life as an American. Mr. Kahn knows the value of the constitution. And some of us don’t.
What the Saudis who perpetrated 911 managed to do is this: They separated us from the constitution and gave birth to Donald Trump. But not quite Donald Trump. He’s simply a messenger of the downfall of the U.S. though many people consider him a “movement” with a “message”.
You can decide to ignore the constitution. You can decide to ignore the need for values that we can be proud to pass on to our children. You can let your anger and fear rule you and piss on the only document in the history of the world to outline the freedom that many have said made the Russians inferior to us. You can support a man who believes in the cult of power, in Vladimir Putin, in crushing people under his boot. But that was exactly what the British wanted to do and what separated us lock stock and barrel from the European royal model centuries ago. Something that thousands died to put to rest.
The sad thing is that even Hillary Clinton has fallen into the realm of fear. And for the first time in years both candidates are disliked by most American voters. So I’ll make a proposition. What if we stuck with the constitution, not matter what it cost us. It cost our forefathers a lot. And we are pissing on that by giving into our fear.
That’s what we lost on September 11, 2001. And what has dogged us since then. And it’s taken fifteen years for it to become obvious. Here is my view: Adherence to the constitution defines Americans, even if it’s “inconvenient”. Defending our forefathers values is the hard way and doesn’t lend itself to solving immediate problems, making ourselves feel safe right now and fearing immigrants when they won’t bother to mess up our lives because it is isn’t worth their time. Fear and finger pointing is easy. Maintaining a republic of values isn’t.
I experienced fear on 911, fifteen years ago. I had hatred and anger and not much else. I lost my city. But I know what Americans are supposed to be. And I won’t let terrorists take that from me.
We will never forget. If we do, we are destroyed.