The sixth anniversary of 9/11: The forgetfulness of time

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Today is the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A couple of years ago, I wrote an extended take on the attacks and what I thought about them. I encourage you to read it, either for the first time or again. Two years later, I don’t have much to add other than to note that I’ve seen several stories in the press expressing concern that Americans are forgetting the the attacks or not paying sufficient reverence to the fallen anymore.

This story, for example, appeared in a New Jersey newspaper over the weekend:

In Westfield, weeds have taken over the brick walkways around the 9/11 memorial and heavy traffic exhaust has left its mark on the obelisk.

In Morris County — where fundraising to expand the 9/11 county memorial is stalled for lack of interest — visitors can no longer throw coins into the pool around the existing monument, custodians said, because the homeless went wading for change and “we were afraid somebody would drown.”

n Middletown, where an estimated 2,000 people attended the 9/11 ceremony last year, Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger said events have been scaled “way back” because “nobody really wanted something that big again.”

Six years. 2,191 days since that worst morning imaginable.

No one can forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but now in the second half of the decade since it happened, no one is quite sure how to remember it.

While year five was commemorated with speeches, bands, bagpipes, choirs and even heads of state, year six in New Jersey — 691 state residents lost their lives on 9/11 — is arriving with a sigh.

There are, of course, dozens of memorial services throughout the state, including — in Bayonne — a long overdue dedication of a memorial to William Macko, the one New Jerseyan who lost his life in the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

There will be a major event at, or at least near, Ground Zero in Manhattan. There will be controversy in Jersey City as the names of living politicos are added to the Circle of Honor on the memorial there. And there will be speeches, prayers and a color guard, followed by a string quartet, at the state’s most widely visited 9/11 site, the Essex County memorial in Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange.

But equally notable are the number of New Jersey municipalities that quietly abandoned any organized 9/11 services this year.

Many of the relatives of the victims said they were dismayed. But not surprised.

Although I can understand why families might be dismayed, I can also understand why this has happened. It may be a cliche, but it’s a true cliche. Time does heal all wounds–at least for most people. It was always inevitable that the shock, pain, and horror of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, an attack that caused even more loss of life than Pearl Harbor, would begin to fade. It’s also not surprising that it would fade this year compared to last year. After all, last year was the fifth anniversary, a major milestone that won’t be reached again until the tenth anniversary.

Although it understandably pains those who suffered direct losses in the attacks, this inevitable lessening of the intensity of memory is not necessarily a completely bad thing. It’s a human trait that allows us to get on with our lives. Moreover, in the case of the 9/11 attacks, the further away from the horror of that Tuesday morning we get, the less power it has over us in terms of politicians manipulating it for their own ends. It does not take a lot of political savvy to understand that President Bush would have been highly unlikely to have persuaded the nation to go to war with Iraq if the 9/11 attacks hadn’t occurred 18 months before, nor would it have been possible to have passed legislation such as the PATRIOT ACT. In that, perspective is not such a bad thing.

On the other hand, forgetting too much would be bad as well. For me at least, the 9/11 attacks were the single worst incident that I can recall in my lifetime, and the recent reappearance of Osama bin Laden reminds us that it (or something even worse) could happen again if we relax our gaurd too much. We must never forget that.

In the interest of not forgetting, feel free to post your memories of what happened on 9/11 in the comments of this post. Were you actually there? Did you actually see it? Even if you didn’t, where where were you when you heard about it, and how did you react?