As the spectre of Hurricane Irma blew into our consciousness late last week, the shadow of the 9/11 attacks loomed in our memory.
With any luck, those horrific images of packed commercial airliners pile-driving into bustling offices in the Twin Towers and another striking the Pentagon – as well as our imaginings of the epic battle for control of Flight 93, at once ghastly and yet inspiring – will be the most haunting we’ll ever have to endure.
It does strike us that those images are, for the most part, tucked away in cans on shelves, rarely revisited in today’s media – and therefore likely lost on those who didn’t experience it first-hand.
One newspaper’s headline on a past 9/11 anniversary defiantly declared, “Forget? Hell, no!” But holding onto anger or letting it go has always been a delicate affair, and Americans tend to lean heavily toward the latter – perhaps at the expense of memory and resolve.
There’s a middle ground, one of resolute remembrance alloyed with steely determination and comradeship – determination never to have our guard down like that again, and the solidarity of a people who’ve been through war together. And we have been through war, as certainly as the people of London during the Blitzkrieg.
Yet how are we doing on these counts?
Not well, sadly enough.
Now overshadowed by other events, we’ve recently fought our way through a bizarre, heated and still-unsettled debate over whether we should have our guard up at all – with many Americans favoring largely unfettered entry by unvetted migrants from terror-infested parts of the world. Such a stunning lack of resoluteness was unimaginable as the ashes fell and the smoke rose over tons of debris following a wholly unprovoked act of war on two of our major population centers.
The amnesia is made all the more peculiar by the ensuing waves of attacks, both here and abroad, like a series of hurricanes – though battering us without the warning that comes with nature’s assaults.
To let up on the enemy, or let down our guard, is to forget. It dishonors both the victims and survivors of those attacks, as well as our memories of them.
This is not to suggest wearing grievance and grudge on our sleeves. But to have an aversion to the memory of that awful day is to risk dooming the future to repeat our most dreadful past.
As for comradeship, the type of which we shared after Sept. 11, 2001, we rarely see it, at least in the news, except in the face of hurricanes and other natural disasters. Kinship, camaraderie and accord cannot be stored in Red Cross warehouses only to be trotted out when the sirens blare.
If the thought of standing up to a malevolent, relentless enemy – radical Islamic terror – that has already laid waste to lower Manhattan and breached the Pentagon is too squeamish a notion, then surely there’s nothing wrong with standing together against any destructive force, be it nature or human nature.
We can never forget, we can never go wobbly, and we can never splinter.