We will forget

On my previous WordPress, I wrote a small 9/11 tribute message that I’d refresh and repost every year:

“Seven Years Later”

Seven years later, and it still feels like yesterday.

The images of that morning will be forever seared into our memories.

Never has this generation seen such fear, such horror, such bravery, and such courage.

We must remember both the good and the evil from that day.

We must never forget that radical Islam attacked us on that day, and we must continue to fight the encroachment of such an evil ideology on all fronts.

We must never forget our ability as Americans to come together as we did in the hours, and days, and weeks following that September morning.

Seven years have passed, but the memories still remain. The families who lost loved ones that day are reminded every day of that fateful day. Those of us who pause once per year cannot forget those who pause as they awaken from their beds every morning, as they see that empty place at the dinner table every evening. We must always keep them in our prayers.

I would like to end with a quote by President Bush, something that he spoke poignantly today at the dedication of the remarkable memorial at the Pentagon, “On a day when buildings fell, heroes rose.” We will never forget.

It always brought it back home for me because it helped me remember what that day was like.

I remember my mom waking me up and showing me the television.

I remember teachers with bewildered expressions, trying to comfort and calm.

I remember adults all around me with more uncertainty, confusion, sadness, and loss than I’d ever seen.

When the adults don’t know what to do, how are kids supposed to?

say what you want about him — staying in the classroom to avoid frightening a roomful of children was the correct choice

It brought politics to the forefront for me. I’d previously been insulated in the worlds of science, writing, art, and dismissed politics as just useless back-and-forth.

But then I saw something happen that threw every rule book out of the window.

People came together on an unprecedented scale.

The worldwide outpouring of grief and comfort was enormous.

Stories like the Masai tribe that sent a gift of cows to the United States are particularly touching.

9/11 made us see that grief and comfort are a part of the human experience.

Beneath everything — hatred, violence, bitterness, division — there’s a small but strong fiber of goodness.

Maybe it’s shared survival — the hope that kindness spread will be kindness returned which benefits all — but it’s still goodness.

9/11 also showed us that evil is a universal part of the human experience as well. That battling with that sense of goodness is unspeakable evil, callousness, cruelty, that had just taken another form: Islamic extremism.  And that evil comes from a sense of survival just like good — the sense that the only way you can survive is by brutally harming others.

The thing that scared us the most about 9/11 was the fact that no matter how advanced we become, that battle between good and evil will always be a part of us as humans.

People in the most advanced office building, pursuing a completely civilized existence, could be taken out by people who had experienced a completely different sense of modernity, using technology as a tool for evil instead of good.

Perhaps some day we’ll be supplanted by artificial intelligence that won’t be good or evil, just neutral, in a goal to sublimate humanity past notions of good and evil.

Perhaps that day will come in this century, when human-created artificial intelligence reaches a second-generation of artificial intelligence that creates itself — to completely remove it from the boundaries of human control.

Perhaps that’s the only way we could completely prevent another 9/11 — when we remove humans completely from the equation in being able to determine our fate.

For there will always be evil, and there will always be another 9/11, and it will come when and where we least expect it.

But to return to 9/11 itself: I just realized that it’s been 14 years since 9/11 this year.

That means that the kids who are freshmen starting high school were born the year 9/11 happened.

It also means that the seniors who graduated high school this year likely have no memory of that horrible day.

By the end of this decade, you’ll have college graduates who have no memory of 9/11.

What does this mean?

It means the first-hand memories of that day are aging along with those who hold them.

This is not a bad thing.

Most of those memories are sharp, painful — from those who lost a loved one in the Towers, at the Pentagon, or on Flight 93. Our brains are not designed to fully digest traumatic memories, but to pass them.

The argument has been made that truly evil acts come from those with traumatic memories of evil being perpetuated upon them. And that may be the case in some instances, but something about that day seems to not fit that description.

After all, the hijackers were by no means poor nor actually victimized. They were driven by an ideology that told them to kill — apparently an ideology that also looked another way when they were living it up in Vegas with booze and hookers just hours before the attacks. Is it really about the 72 virgins when you’re getting action a couple nights earlier?

It wasn’t for some kind of evil supervillain profit either — after all, how can you profit on the kingdom of Earth when your goal is to exit it?

The writings of Sayyid Qutb have been said to influence the Muslim Brotherhood, and later, al-Qaeda. Many are surprised to hear that this Islamic “scholar” studied in the US, living in the town of Greeley, CO in the late 1940s. He observed church gatherings and dances through an incredibly distorted lens, denouncing Americans as immoral. This was his description of women in 1949 (i.e. your grandmothers):

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it.

No wonder the burqa is coming back into fashion in the Islamic world.

They danced to the tunes of the gramophone, and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire…

That’s quite a stretch for a church dance to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in a dry city 100 miles north of Denver during the late-40s.

I guess you can say that they “hate us for our freedom” then, although judging by the receipts from the hijackers, they certainly indulged in the freedom quite a bit while they were here.

Maybe simple jealousy was the cause — but can it really be that simple?

I’ve referred to extremist Islam before as a “sex-obsessed death cult” because when you look at the base instincts behind these horrific acts, it’s true.

The infliction of trauma across decades and generations can probably cause someone to go absolutely crazy down the line.

That’s memory being used for the purposes of evil — using it to inflict harm on those that follow, instead of helping the next generation actually understand.

True memories of hurt don’t pass many generations along.  At some point they have to be exaggerated, falsified, magnified to still hold resonance.

It’s why one hurricane that hits a tribe can hundreds of years later be remembered as a great bird that came from the sky to punish them for their evil acts.

It’s why one simple disagreement with a neighboring tribe can become a generations-long blood feud.

That having been said — our culture will forget the painful memories of 9/11 as years and anniversaries pass.  It holds incredible historical weight as the first truly global, simultaneously-experienced tragedy in human history.

But we’ll forget the pain, the shock, the fear, the sadness.

That’s ok — as long as we never forget the cause.

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