By Emma Reilly
On Sept. 11, 2001, four commercial airplanes were hijacked by members of the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda. In an unprecedented attack on the United States, the flights were purposefully crashed into landmark sites in an effort to incite terror and unrest.
Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. This caused severe damage that led to the towers’ rapid collapse. According to CNN, over 2,700 people were killed as a result.
Of the other two flights, one was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The other crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers on-board attempted to regain control of the flight. According to CNN, an additional 224 people died in these two crashes.
For some, this is a vivid and life-changing memory. But for someone like me, who is young enough to only have heard about Sept. 11 second-hand, it feels more like a distant story told to frighten and awe.
This Saturday will mark the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. For many, the anniversary will entail the remembrance of loved ones. Others will grapple with the resurgence of feelings and traumas tied to the attacks.
Sept. 11 is a date that is imbued with heart-wrenching meaning for many Americans — but for a growing portion of the U.S. population, the date doesn’t hold that same weight.
“More than 73 million Americans have been born in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And millions of others are too young to remember what that day was like,” WIFT’s Julia Agos said.
This number includes the vast majority of us enrolled here at Washington College.
For older Americans, Sept. 11 is likely intrinsically linked with deep-rooted emotions and unforgettable memories.
“The enduring power of the Sept. 11 attacks is clear,” Pew Research Center’s Hannah Hartig and Caroll Doherty said. “An overwhelming share of Americans who are old enough to recall the day remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.”
This is the kind of concrete connection that younger generations lack. I didn’t witness the Sept. 11 attacks, and that disconnect will bar me from ever understanding them in the ways that older generations of Americans do.
With the exception of those who have family members who were affected directly by the attacks, Sept. 11 as a topic may generate no more than a vague sense of fear, sadness, or confusion for those who are too young to have witnessed it. Those feelings have less direction because there is a lack of personal connection.
For many young Americans, their knowledge of and feelings about Sept. 11 stem strictly from what they learned in school.
“Sept. 11 occupies an awkward place in the American timeline for teachers. It’s too old to talk about as a current event, but not old enough to be in most social studies curricula,” Agos said.
Rushed and parsed explanations of the events that unfolded in 2001 are all I had in terms of in-school instruction regarding Sept. 11. My parents filled in the gaps, but even then, my connection to the attacks was rather impersonal.
As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve realized more how important remembering Sept. 11 is, regardless of how personally or deeply connected you are to it.
The sacrifices made by ordinary Americans, police officers, firefighters, and service people should be commended. The losses we sustained should be remembered.
Whether you can remember the day or not, take a moment to reflect on it this Saturday. Speak to someone you know who knows how pivotal Sept. 11 was. Let them help you connect with a day that may feel distant, but really shouldn’t.