Observance of 9/11 and historical memory

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

This past week, Americans observed the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11th. The day that terrorist attacked America and we entered a war with Iraq and in Afganistan. All around town, my oldest daughter and I noticed that flags at half-mast, patriotic songs on the radio and postings on facebook by friends. My daughter came home from 8th grade commenting that they discussed 9/11 in one class.

Thirteen years later, we still stop and remember the tragic day. Here in Oklahoma- April 22, 1995 is observed in Oklahoma City every year with the reading of the victims who died in the Oklahoma City bombing.  Bells ring and a moment of silence is still observed at 9:02 am each year.

The thought struck me- how long will America continue to remember and observe these tragic dates in our history? Ahh yes reader- you will say forever. But I challenge that. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we went to war. If you ask anyone of the World War II generation where were they when they heard about Pearl Harbor they can can answer precisely and clearly. If I ask you where were you when you heard about the world trade center; you will have a clear answer. For years, Americans observed Pearl Harbor day- or December 7th. Flags were flown at half mast, schools held observances, communities took a moment to remember and the papers ran stories.  Veterans gathered for memorial services and reunions on that date  at Pearl Harbor.   About three years ago, the survivors held their last reunion at Pearl Harbor. The few remaining veterans were too old to trave and only a  handful are left. The National Park Service still holds an observance on that day. But do other towns and communities across America? Sure the local newspapers and news stations will run a story on a local World War II veteran, but are the flags across town at half mast?

My question- when does our collective memory begin to fade? When does a tragic national event lose its importance? When do Americans begin to no longer observe such tragic events and to publicly memorialize them?

The majority of my college freshman students have vague memories of 9/11. Most were born in 1996. So they were young when the event happen and do not have a full understanding of the war that followed. Will they keep the memory alive? What about my 14 year old daughter who was born three months before the event? She has absolutely no memory of the event. A year ago, I visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial in Oklahoma City with my 7th grade girl scouts. They had a vague understanding of bombing on April 22, 1995. How long will Oklahoma City continue to observe that day?  What about 9/11?  Some teachers take time to discuss it and my daughter and her friends know about the event and date due to media observances and the flags at half mast. When her generation becomes adults will we continue to stop for a moment of silence? Will we continue to lower our flags on 9/11 twenty years from now?

Just something to ponder- when do we stop observing tragic historical events as a nation? When do these events just become tragic historical events of the past?

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