The September 11th terrorist attacks happened my senior year of college. The next day, standing with some of my classmates, one of our professors told us: “Remember this day. 9/11 is to your generation what Pearl Harbor was to my generation.”
That September day was indeed like that 1941 day that will “live in infamy,” another shock heard ‘round the world.
Now, 11 years later, things are a little different. For the first time, the commemoration ceremony will not include speeches by politicians. News stories now often focus more on the squabbles about work at the site than on 9/11 itself. In our daily lives, Americans have gone from complaining that airline security was too lax to complaining that airline security is too cumbersome. Like Pearl Harbor, the shock of 9/11 has begun to fade as well.
This is, to a point, understandable. First, Osama bin Laden is now dead, which has brought with it a degree of closure. Many of bin Laden’s henchmen have also been killed or captured, and at least 30 terrorist plots have been foiled since the attack. And as part of a comprehensive approach, the United States has used other tools, like international development, to help degrade Al-Qaeda's extremist ideology.
It is also worth realizing that 11 years is a long time. In that time, our military has felt the strain of a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our troops have served multiple tours of duty. Thousands have been wounded or have even made the ultimate sacrifice. It has been a long, hard slog.
As well, the national security landscape has changed markedly as other challenges have emerged. When the attacks were fresh in our minds, the Arab Spring was not. Nor was an issue like cyber security. And amid economic concerns, the national debt is increasingly becoming a security concern as well. Meanwhile, the attacks reinforced the need to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil as those funds can end up in the hands of terrorist organizations.
At their core, Americans are resilient. We didn’t respond to 9/11 with fear, we responded with courage and strength. But even if they’re not always at the forefront, the September 11th attacks will forever be part of our national memory. See television footage of them again or look up at a clear blue sky and it might seem like 9/11 was just yesterday. More so even, go down to the World Trade Center site and feel the air of solemnity against the backdrop of bustling downtown Manhattan. When you trace your fingers over the etched name of a victim that you either knew or never met, you’ll know that William Faulkner’s famous quote rings true: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”