Fifteen years ago, the American public was united in a way that had not been seen for decades. As the World Trade Centers fell, the citizens of the United States rose up and met the challenge posed to them; many were set on showing those responsible that they would pay, that America would defend itself, and those who were lost would not die without consequence.
Nationwide, the effects of that day were felt for weeks afterward, as clean-up at Ground Zero ensued, entertainment television paused, and many felt for those returning to homes short of family members.
However, today the American people sit 15 years away from the traumatic events that shaped this country so greatly and ushered us into the “Age of Terrorism” and its subsequent wars. During this decade and a half, the dynamic of this day’s memorial has begun to shift. No longer does every person across the country know where they were or how they felt when those towers fell, nor do they remember the pit that formed in their stomachs the moment they realized what exactly this meant for their nation. Since September 2001, almost an entire generation of children have been born. Logistically,this should not mean the events of 9/11 receive any less respect; in many ways, however, they do.
The children born in the mid to late 1990’s have a very different perspective on the happenings of this fateful day, as many do not remember it at the same magnitude–or at all for that matter–yet still grew up in its aftermath. The War on Terror, as declared by President George W. Bush, would push military action in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. would be involved for over a decade. This prolonged conflict abroad began to muddle the public’s view of the government’s motivation, most pointedly when Iraq’s involvement in 9/11 became questionable at best and the Bush administration came under fire for exploiting the Twin Tower’s destruction to protect interests in the Middle East.
But how do all of these events, which have happened and have been happening for many years, affect Americans now as we pass another year departed from this tragedy? Those who were young in 2001 are now functioning adults. These youth came of age in an era of doubt and cynicism, where the motives of the government became less idealized as American involvement in the Middle East dragged on. This young demographic, who already tend to be more left-leaning, scorned President Bush and his advisors for their choices, and respect for U.S. retaliation for 9/11 plummets among America’s young adults.
It is difficult to rally against an idea when there is no concrete or knowable source to aim the frustration toward; it is increasingly challenging to find conviction in the “War on Terror” when its inciting event is weak in one’s mind. However, there is something that must stand when all else falls: when you cannot bring yourself to agree with the involvement abroad which killed over a hundred thousand Iraqis or believe that America did not provoke an attack on itself by its attitude towards the Middle East, you can still stand back and acknowledge that those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11 died without cause and deserve to be remembered. It is crucial that we remember–even when we find it easier to be disenchanted with the United States–that we are Americans, and our lives are woven into the fabric of this society as much as everyone else.
September 11, 2001 is not a conspiracy we whisper to our friends as simply another joke. It is not a meme on the internet or a funny video that has popular culture altering the devastating effects those planes took on the Towers. As easy as it is to step back and forget about what is truly being diminished during these simple, seemingly innocent, actions. There are many valid reasons why 9/11 should cause us to evaluate ourselves, our government, and our ideals. Yet this does not mean we discredit the sacrifice made by the servicemen, forget the bravery of those on Flight 93, or ignore the loss of the innocent American lives.
15 years later, the U.S can look back and see the carnage and destruction that would follow in the wake of the “War on Terror,” and it is easy to fall victim to hindsight bias. We now know the civilian lives lost overseas, the military personnel killed in action, the civil wars, and the anti-American sentiment being fostered as a result of the response to the attacks. Yet it is critical for Americans to remember and respect the tragedy of September 11 without allowing jokes or conspiracies to belittle the historic, and tragic, events of that day.