9/11

Today is the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Like many school districts I’m sure, the county had us talk to students about the event. I do very little to commemorate the anniversary in my class for two reason: one, I’ve got so much to cover, so little time and too many tests to prepare my students for; and two, because I teach the “war on terror” next semester and I save the analysis, documents, and notes for that day. I usually get better, more interesting questions at that time because students have a basic understanding of U.S. History up to that point. That is not to say I do not totally participate in commemoration activities for the benefit of my students and school.

For the past two years, I have helped put up a 9/11 memorial wall with a co-teacher. The wall includes names, pictures, quotes, and missing person flyers from that tragic day. So today, as in the past, I began class by taking my students out to see the wall. I always go with them in case any of them have questions about content on the wall to further their understanding. When we return to class, I explain to my students why I won’t be covering much of the event on the anniversary (because we do next semester) but I do tell them if they are inspired to ask any questions, given that it’s the anniversary of 9/11, that I will gladly attempt to answer them. I’ve found that each year I get fewer and fewer questions. Today was somewhat different, but my students really just wanted to know about ISIS. I did receive a very general question; “What do you think about terrorism?” which prompted a five minute discussion before talking about the Roger Sherman’s “Great Compromise.”

At one point in each class, I took a survey of my students to see how many of them could actually remember 9/11. I asked how many of them remember where they were, or what they saw on that day. They were honest; they remembered very little. The most common memory was the reactions of their parents. Each year, fewer and fewer students have answers to this line of questioning. The students I teach currently were under the age of 3 in 2001. They have little to no memory of the event. On the other side of this coin, all of the students I teach live[d] in and are molded by the aftermath of 9/11; a generation of continuous, undeclared war and American exceptionalism. I found myself wondering today, what is the difference between this event and the Pearl Harbor to these kids? How long will older generations hold younger generations accountable for remembering 9/11? Will the remembrance change when another tragedy and/or crisis occurs which takes the place of 9/11? Finally, how long will Americans continue to use this event to justify imperialism and nation building?

Miracle at Dunkirk of 9/11.

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3 thoughts on “9/11

  1. Jimmy Dick

    I agree with you final paragraph. I teach World Regional Geography to first or second year college students. The average student was 7 or 8 when 9/11 occurred and some were even younger. I do not have that many adults in this semester’s class. They just do not look at 9/11 like people a decade older do. It is very interesting to learn their world views too. In fact, that has been a very educational experience for me.

    When I grew up it was all about Vietnam. These kids don’t even know what that war was. They have next to no connection to it. It was their grandparents or great grandparent’s conflict, not theirs. None of them were alive for the Reagan years or when Desert Storm took place in 1991. They do not look at the world with the eyes of someone who experienced these events, but with the eyes of one who only knows about them via a textbook. It is very interesting to learn why they view the world like they do. It is also very interesting to teach them about the world around them because they learn how different it is compared to America.

    Your four questions are very acute. I have considered them myself. The truth is the past is viewed differently by different people. 9/11 for the younger generation does not hold the same meaning it holds for me or you or older people. but then Pearl Harbor does not hold the same meaning for us as it did for our grandparents (at least mine who went to war because of it). That is something very important to remember as we teach history. It shows how the interpretation of history changes over time.

  2. Matt

    I agree with Jimmy’s comments on how 9/11 will be remembered within the context of American history. As time passes, perception of past events will continually change as peoples’ proximity to those events is decreased. Nevertheless, the events of 2001 have shaped the world we live in, which is why remembrance is paramount in understanding why the world currently works the way it does; just as remembrance of the Pearl Harbor bombing is important in understanding how America was drawn into the second world war and how that shaped later years; just as how the understanding of imperialism and the draw-up of alliances is important in understanding what caused the first world war. You see where I’m going with this. My favorite quote from a history professor of mine stated that “history tells us who we are,” so I believe that the relevance of remembering past events and taking into account the context in which they occurred is critical in having a firm grasp on human interaction on the global scale.

    As far as your question of how long the U.S. purportedly uses 9/11 as an excuse for nation building and imperialism, there is no easy answer that can be succinctly stated; as that is a highly complex, loaded, and I believe slightly misaligned question. I also feel that is is not in keeping with the rest of your article. But seeing as how no response has been offered, allow my contribution:

    9/11 changed our role in foreign policy in the world scheme. Since oceans can clearly not protect us from assailants, it is necessary to extend influence and action to the various parts of the world whose members have affected us at home. I will elaborate, but not use Iraq as an example, because (a) Iraq is a much more complex & convoluted case than Afghanistan & other GWOT affected countries, and is better suited for another conversation entirely, and (b) I have no firsthand experience there.

    Most would agree that the proper action following 9/11 was to seek out the perpetrators and to capture or kill them. 9/11 took thousands of lives, and an act of terrorism must be followed by an act of war. To seek out al Qaeda meant an invasion of the country in which they were most highly concentrated, being Afghanistan, and to guarantee their neutralization meant the dismantling of the Taliban-controlled environment that fostered their viability. While many al Qaeda and Taliban members were and are present in Pakistan, who has difficulty in maintaining the FATA, that country’s sovereignty meant that the U.S. could not be conventionally engaged as we are in Afghanistan. Except in special (but I believe extremely necessary) circumstances, that sovereignty has been honored. Back to Afghanistan, it only makes sense that after invading an already war-torn country, that we must do what we can to help the nation rebuild. Counter-terrorism alone will not solve the problems of a region, therefore nation building must occur, as it not only ensures America’s continued safety by creating an inhospitable environment for future assailants, but is also the right thing to do.

    The ultimate goals in Afghanistan were to eliminate al Qaeda, the Taliban government that supported them, and to enable the country to be self sufficient afterwards. Continued involvement is critical in helping the nation to get on their feet and avoid a power-vacuum. As a security and assistance force, it would be unwise to leave as soon as we took the training wheels off. When I arrived in Afghanistan in 2009, the commanding general told us that our relationship with the Afghans was to be built upon mutual cooperation and understanding, not the naive assumption of ‘winning hearts and minds.’ So long as they understood that we were there to ensure our own safety and stability, and to enable them to do the same, then our involvement would be regarded as less intrusive. I would not call our actions in Afghanistan imperialistic at all.

    An anecdote to support that claim is that while I was in southern Helmand province in the spring of 2010, I was tasked with the collection of census data in the town of Khan Neshin. I enjoyed speaking with older men who lived through Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and my favorite question to ask them was what the differences were between Americans and Russians. The consensus I received was that the Afghans understood very well that Americans were not there to conquer, and as such treated the Afghan people respectfully, which they appreciated.

    In closing, the effects of 9/11 are widespread and far-reaching, and there is no easy solution to anything. To think that there is a simple or consequence-free route is naive and foolish. In the meantime, we as Americans can only do the best that we can in our pursuit of those three essential liberties, and hope that it transcends borders and barriers to make our world a better place.

    1. Fair points, however:

      There is a difference between remembrance and remembering. The way 9/11 is “remembered” today has more to do with remembrance and leaves little room for objective analysis of the event. Many people think about the event as an unprovoked attack that warranted necessary retaliation. Hardly ever does the remembrance of the event look to the question “Why?” nor is anything learned from it.

      I don’t consider my last question to be misguided, especially when taken into context of America’s imperialistic nature prior to 9/11. You made an interesting observation in saying “Since oceans can clearly not protect us from assailants, it is necessary to extend influence and action to the various parts of the world whose members have affected us at home.” The reality behind that statement, is that America extended its influence to parts of the world regardless of whether or not said country affected the U.S. at home. The United States has a legacy of invasion, installation of puppet governments, etc. (http://www.zompist.com/latam.html) This are just a few examples of that intervention and only in Latin America. This list is incomplete however, I know there are many many more instances in that part of the world. Since WWII much of U.S. foreign intervention was done through a policy of containment outlined in NSC-68, and put America on a “do no wrong” course of action to defeat Communism. If we were not directly involved, we were indirectly involved in countries to fulfill this policy. Our foreign influence rarely has anything to do terrorist attacks or invasions of America. The majority of the time, it has to do with the U.S.’s execution of policy. Why did/does Israel get blind support? Why did Turkey receive millions of dollars and military equipment after World War II? South Vietnam? Iran? Mujahideen in Afghanistan? Contras? The list goes on and on.

      I use “imperialism” as many do, generally, to refer to the foreign intervention that is prevalent in our current foreign policy. What happens with that policy today is more along the lines of quasi-imperialism. It is foreign involvement, direction, and control to the benefit of the invader without annexation. Regardless, political leaders use the memory of 9/11 and the “war on terror” currently, as a motivator to rally support for the invasions of other countries, to topple governments, and to establish “democracy.” We do this because that is what we as westerners perceive the “right” thing to do and the “right ” form of government.

      You offer some keen insight into the affairs from your previous service and association with Afghanistan. However, what does this tell us about the broad picture of the entire ordeal? We are now thirteen years down the road from the Afghanistan invasion. The Taliban government, although “toppled,” is hardly removed from power and/or influence. Like most Americans, I do not disagree with the immediate invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. A terrible thing occurred on September 11, 2001 which demanded retribution. The aftermath however, is merely a continuation of what America already engaged in prior to 9/11. There are also convoluted issues in regards to “nation building.” Rarely does the United States write blank checks to facilitate the rebuilding of a country in that country’s preferred design. We usually direct them to rebuild in our model so that they can become western democratic societies. We fail to acknowledge that some dictators and empires are better to live in than some democracies. “Democracy good, Empire bad.”

      A recent Pew poll found that the majority of Americans see the war in Afghanistan as a failure. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/01/30/usa-today-pew-research-poll-americans-question-results-in-iraq-afghanistan/5028097/) Most foreign policy experts continue to assert that the continued presence of troops, only furthers to destabilize rather than stabilize the region. It is rather ridiculous, in my opinion, to assume that you can in fact stabilize a region in a decades long civil war. Once outside influence leaves, the struggle will continue until that country is allowed to self determine it’s own for of leadership and government. Which, is unlikely to happen given the tribal cultural history of the region. This was what occurred after the Soviet pull-out until our intervention. It is likely this will continue if the U.S. does leave that quagmire.

      I agree with your conclusion except for one part, the protection of our three essential liberties. These things are hardly ever threatened from abroad. They are usually consequences of what happened internally. 2,977 people died on 9/11. 6. 717 military deaths since the invasions. Military suicide rates continue to increase, because our nation does little to aid in the three essential freedoms of returning veterans. Then of course there are the Afghanistan civilian casualty counts from the UN. In the first year they began counts in 2007, they found that 629 civilians were killed directly in some manner (airstrikes, etc.) by U.S./Coalition forces, which made up 41% of all civilian casualties that year. We’ll have to disagree on this issue. Foreign intervention does more harm than good.

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