Today, twenty years after September 11, 2001, we remember.
(Next week, sometime, we should talk.)
For me the most striking, most inspiring memories involve the brave men and women who ran toward the danger, helping tens of thousands of others escape it. On that subject City Journal republished this fine twenty-year-old essay by Victor Davis Hanson: “What Made Them Do Their Duty?“
After you read it, if you still want more, here’s some of what I wrote about September 11, eight years later.
(Condensed and adapted from my old blog, LocalCommentary.com, on September 11, 2009, a post entitled “On Remembering and Forgetting.”)
There are least four things we might forget about September 11. I’m not sure it’s healthy to forget them all.
First, there is the horror of seeing or participating in or finding out about what actually happened. This is an individual experience, which no two people will find to be exactly alike. This, perhaps, is good to forget, lest we never enter a skyscraper or fly on an airliner or close our eyes to sleep again.
Second, there is the awareness that it could happen again, in some form or other, somewhere, to ourselves or to someone we love. It could happen to ten thousand or a million people next time. We remember this and behave a little differently, personally and institutionally, rationally or otherwise, proportionally or not, and we hope this reduces the likelihood of it happening again, or at least limits the scope if it does.
Third, there is the anger, the thirst for vengeance. We want to rage against the perpetrators, their comrades, their organizations, their sponsors. We sometimes transfer our fury to our own people and institutions, blaming them for letting it happen, even suspecting them of collusion or conspiracy. We would best forget all this. We’ll make more rational decisions, shoot ourselves in the foot less frequently, and enjoy a healthier blood pressure, if we let the second thing I listed be sufficient motivation to act intelligently and decisively at home and abroad against our enemies.
Fourth, we might forget but ought to remember that we live in an imperfect, somewhat hostile world. We cannot live outside history. We have not lived beyond the end of history, as some giddy souls suggested when the Iron Curtain fell. If there is a “new world order,” it may be no safer and is certainly is less orderly than the old world order. As one astute observer put it after September 11, 2001, that day marked the end of our vacation from history.
Here’s something to consider today. Our lives and citizenship require us habitually, not just occasionally, to wrench our thoughts and actions away from the home theater, the church pot-luck dinner, the checkbook and the video monitor and skinned knees and crabgrass and the portfolio, and into the political world. We are needed there to think, speak, understand, and act with wisdom, intelligence, and moral courage.
We have the memory of our September 11 heroes to urge and encourage us. I didn’t list them among the things we might forget. I’d like to believe we never can and never shall forget them. To forget them would be to betray them and ourselves. To remember them is to endow ourselves with hope.
They ran toward the fire.
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