Personal opinion: An unpopular response to last week’s 9/11 memorial

Last week, the three major political party groups came together, united for a cause. That cause was remembering 9/11, arguably the worst act of terrorism in history. But what exactly are we remembering, and why do we set aside a day to remember?

When I came to campus last Tuesday and saw all those flags, I was taken aback. Something didn’t feel right and I wasn’t really sure at the time what it was. I had a lot of emotions flowing through me and had a lot of memories rushing through my head.

I’m a 29 year old, so 9/11 is a day that I won’t forget. I was a 12 year old kid, sitting in my sixth grade homeroom and we had someone coming taking pictures of our class. I’m not sure how we found out, but our homeroom was one of the first in our school to hear the news. The woman taking our photos mentioned hearing on the radio about a plane hitting a building in New York City. That day, our room had a TV in it for some reason, probably a 20 inch or so CRT. My homeroom teacher decided to turn it on and tuned it to the news. We all sat there and watched right as the plane hit the second tower. Homeroom was not a long class, only 20 or 30 minutes, so we all left to go to our first class of the day. By about my second class the news had reached the rest of the teachers at the school and at that point, any lesson plan they may have had was thrown out the window.

It was an odd day of school. For gym, we just stayed in the locker room for the entire duration. In most other classes we either sat in silence or watched TV, as more news and more information came in. Social studies was different however. The late Jean Attebury, an adjunct professor at Washburn for years, was my World Geography teacher. Attebury was a different kind of teacher. As a new middle schooler, she was somewhat intimidating at first, but that day was very different. As said before, lesson plans were put aside that day and as class began, Attebury just sat at the front of the room in silence for a good five minutes, then she just started talking. She talked about her thoughts about what was going on and talked about how this could affect us all. When she was finished talking, she started to listen. She asked us if we had any questions and walked us through her answers. We had a real genuine discussion. We were 11 and 12 year olds yet we were having a real, almost adult-like discussion. I will never forget that.

The events of that day were truly a tragedy. There’s no denying it, however hard anyone might try. But why do we recognize this tragedy above any other one? We live in Kansas, a Free State. It’s the land of abolitionists like John Brown and the Jayhawkers. It is also the place where on Aug. 21, 1863, a pro-slavery militia attacked and burned down the city of Lawrence, killing 164 civilians. You don’t see 164 American flags displayed on the lawns of colleges around the country, or even Lawrence’s own University of Kansas, every year on Aug. 21. As Steven A. Miller, a philosophy professor at Ripon College in Wisconsin, points out in a Slate piece that partially inspired this one, there are other prominent tragedies that have stirred our hearts and shaped our nation. Moments like the Oklahoma City bombing, Pearl Harbor day, Emmett Till’s lynching and others. Most don’t take time out of their year to stop and remember them however.

While we are quick to remember and “never forget” 9/11, sometimes it seems we are also quick to forget some of the lasting legacies of the tragedy. As a nation and society, we have to relive it with images and videos of 9/11 shown on TV every year. We are still engaged in fighting in Afghanistan. The U.S. officially withdrew ground forces from the nation beginning in 2013, twelve years after 9/11, but in its stead are private security forces, under contract from the U.S. and other NATO governments. We are still using drones in the Middle East and elsewhere, flown from thousands of miles away, to strike enemies and in many cases, non-combatant civilians as well. This war and others, usually fought in the name of combating the type of terrorism that was experienced in 9/11, have led men and women to experiences of severe post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues. These are things that will have a lasting effect for a generation or longer.

Looking back to last Tuesday, I think I understand now what felt so wrong about what I was seeing. I was looking at 17 years of a hurt country, hurting itself further with policies put in place because of national tragedy. I was looking at nearly 3,000 lives, not all of whom were American, that were lost and now used as a reason to kill more people, with little regard of the collateral damage. I was looking at 3,000 flags, symbols of the freedom that many people in this country will never truly have, just because of the way they look, the country they came from, the language they speak or the person they love. I wasn’t looking at a memorial to the people who lost their lives that Tuesday morning in September. I was looking at all the things that sadden me about this great country that I have the privilege to be a citizen of.