The television has been filled this week with footage of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I imagine many bloggers will post some sort of memorial piece about that day. Most of us remember where we were when we heard about the attacks. It’s another event in my life that I remember because I vicariously participated by watching every second unfold on television. The Kennedy assassination and funeral, the Watts riots, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and the funeral train, the ’68 Democratic National Convention, the Challenger disaster, and the World Trade Center attack….all images seared in my brain from television.
I love history and I believe that we need to remember the events that have shaped our world and the lessons that our shared history has taught us. I do recognize the impact of the 9-11 attacks. Our world was changed on that day. I have to admit, however, that I’m a little uncomfortable with some of the coverage. On the news tonight Diane Sawyer was interviewing “the babies of 9-11.” These are all children born after their fathers were killed in the attacks. They never knew their fathers and growing up without a father is difficult, but parading these kids out on television and asking them “How does it feel to not have a father?” doesn’t add much to the historical record.
The term hero is probably over-used in the context of 9-11. One does not become a hero just by dying in a terrorist attack. I say that with great respect and admiration of the many heroic acts that have been documented to have occurred that day.
As time passes we may begin to put the 9-11 attacks in perspective. It was a great tragedy but today I found myself wondering about other families who lost loved ones on 9-11: a mother whose child was stillborn, or a wife whose spouse died in a car accident, a husband who lost his wife from breast cancer. Are these losses mourned any less? The children who lost a parent in the terror attacks are not any more tragic than the children who have lost a parent from other causes. Every life is precious. I guess I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the relatives of 9-11 victims are somehow worthy of more support because their loss was 9-11 related.
A city not far from Hermiston has built a 9-11 memorial, complete with pieces of the wreckage from the Twin Towers. There is no direct local connection to the event, no local boy lost. Yes, 9-11 was a great national tragedy, but so was the sinking of the Titanic and there's no local memorial to that event.
The local (Portland) news had an interview with a woman who was in labor on September 11, 2001. Her child will celebrate his 10th birthday on the anniversary of the attacks. There was no connection to anyone involved in the 9-11 attacks, only that they happened to go into labor while the attacks were taking place, thousands of miles from the actual event. The reporter asked the couple what they remembered from that day and they talked about a long labor and watching the towers fall on television and then the husband complained that there was nothing on network TV that day except coverage of the 9-11 attacks…so they switched to TVLand and watched reruns of The Brady Bunch. Yeah, that didn’t add anything to the historical record either!
Several months after the attack I was in New York. I walked by Saint Paul's Chapel that was being used as a relief station for workers cleaning up the devastation. The fence around the chapel was covered with posters of the missing and with memorial messages. I walked along the fence reading note after note representing loved ones lost in the rubble. On the other side of the sidewalk street vendors had set up shop hawking 9-11 souvenirs. You could buy commemorative T-shirts, FDNY hats, or slick photos of the planes smashing into the Twin Towers. So many lives lost and another opportunity to sell souvenirs...the ying and yang of 9-11.