Twenty Years Later, What We Remember

Given that this specific edition of the Maroon News so closely follows the twenty-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it felt particularly imperative that I refrain from pushing any narrow or organized ideological agenda in the Maroon-News. Rather, it seemed far more appropriate, two decades after the collapse of the Twin Towers, to offer a personal reflection of how I perceive the status and future of our nation’s collective consciousness.

It proved enormously challenging to identify and craft a message that would distinguish itself enough from the volumes of commentary that have already been published in the mainstream press. Far more profound reflections from individuals who actually bore witness to the apocalyptic events of Sept. 11, 2001 already exist and are very worthy of being read.

On one hand, it is discomforting for me to acknowledge that while 9/11 may have occurred within my lifetime, I feel nearly as distant and removed from it as I do from the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor or the 1993 Oklahoma City bombings. I, like many students in the Colgate Class of 2022, was not quite two years old when four hijacked airplanes struck the towers, the Pentagon, and an open field in Pennsylvania. I, unlike my mom or grandparents, cannot remember watching the destruction unfold on television or the many long years of violent overseas military engagement thereafter. Yet, 9/11 still occurred within the boundaries of my own lifetime, and I feel that I have a civic (and moral) obligation to claim it as part of my personal history. 

On the other hand, there is perhaps only one class year at Colgate University (the senior class) where the majority of its members would have been born when the Twin Towers were still standing. This speaks to a broader national trend where, presumably, the majority of current American undergraduates have been born in a post-9/11 world. We would, for this reason, plausibly possess a more distant personal connection with 9/11 than our older relatives. At least as it pertains to the legacy of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation has reached a moment of historical transition. Those babies born at the very dawn of the twenty-first century, and many of whom are now currently finishing their undergraduate degrees, have no working memory of one of the most violent assaults ever launched on the collective American soul. 

In observation of these generational developments, I believe that we can begin to reflect on the ways that 9/11 inspired a positive resurgence in our national American ethos, much of which has hardly been seen since. It was after 9/11, for example, that policymakers from all ideological backgrounds joined hands on the steps of the Capitol Building to sing “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace.” It was after 9/11 that young people found a new commitment to national service in a plethora of public sector careers. It was after 9/11 that Democrats and Republicans found common ground to pass laws that would result in several positive improvements for the safety and security of every single American. 

Unfortunately, even as current Colgate students (and the rest of Generation Z) cannot remember the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, neither are we able to remember any of these mutual and genuine efforts for national purpose and spirit. We cannot remember the sudden outpouring of neighborly love that seemed to subsume all political affiliation. We cannot remember the sudden momentum of national devotion and love of country that drove so many of our parents into careers of public service. 

What we can remember is a political atmosphere that seems to reward powerful individuals who stoke division between races, ethnicities and religions in order to climb the infinite capitalist ladder of greed. What we can remember is a politics that emphasizes personalities and celebrity worship over policy substance and outcomes. What we can remember is a gradual emergence of a collective fear that we, our nation’s future, no longer burn with a desire to enter public service, but rather find ourselves hoping a secret hope that our future children will still have a nation worthy of serving. 

The United States currently finds itself in its greatest challenge certainly since Sept. 11, and perhaps in its entire history. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, a radical surge in the wealth gap between tech-giant billionaires and everyone else and untold amounts of damage from a constant barrage of natural disasters are testing our collective national fortitude as never before. Yet, in spite of all of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, I reflect on the necessity that I claim 9/11 as part of my own personal history. And I reach a satisfying conclusion that when I claim all of it (both the eventual good and obvious bad), I feel as though the American future is not so bleak as it may seem. We shall overcome. 

God bless these United States, and may God protect our troops.