As a child, I remember the news media coverage every December 7th. Earnest television reporters would recount in serious tones the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We would see black and white images of American ships ablaze and listen to the replay of President Roosevelt’s description of “a date which will live in infamy.”
I could not fully comprehend or appreciate the events of that day or of the great world war that followed. However, the media coverage and the shared memories of adults strongly reinforced that, even as the years passed, we should always “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
It has often been said that the September 11th attacks were this generation’s Pearl Harbor. On this day 18 years ago 2,977 people were killed in terror attacks when hijacked airplanes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed said under questioning by the CIA following his capture that he was confident al-Qaeda would eventually prevail. “We will win because Americans don’t realize . . . we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.”
So this remains our challenge, and our response is rooted in the solemn and unified pledge as a nation and by all those around the world who support freedom and liberty, to never forget what happened on this day, remain vigilant and prepare for sacrifice.
President George W. Bush said it would be our responsibility to remember. “Time is passing,” he said. “Yet, for the United States of America there will be no forgetting the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and the ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of children.”
I was born in 1955, just 14 years after Pearl Harbor, but growing up the attack seemed like such a long time ago. The war was over. My generation was more concerned about the existential threat of nuclear war and Vietnam.
So, what do those born after 9/11 know or care about the day? Recent high school graduates would have no recollection and it may be only the vaguest of memories for recent college graduates. Additionally, it can be hard to pause, focus and reflect on historic events when social media bombards us every second with, well, everything else.
I wondered immediately after 9/11 if our world would ever be the same. For some—the families of victims, service men and women on the front lines of the fight against terrorism—life changed forever. But humanity has a way of returning to normalcy. Life goes on, especially as the shadows of tragic events grow longer.
So we have to remind ourselves to remember, to pause this morning to mourn for the innocent lives lost, to comprehend that 9/11 was an unprovoked attack on our country and every American, and to help the next generation understand what it meant to all of us on this day 18 years ago.