Friday, September 11, 2009

We Have To Remember

By John Gilstrap

I know that people read blogs for entertainment, and that as a writer, it’s my professional obligation to put fans’ needs ahead of my own. This week, though, I beg your forgiveness, because that’s not going to happen. This blog entry comes from a dark, dark place.

Eight years ago today, 2,980 people were murdered on a beautiful morning. According to, 247 passengers were killed on hijacked airplanes, 2,595 workers were killed in the World Trade Centers, and 125 civilians and military personnel were murdered in the Pentagon. Officials estimate that 1,609 people lost their spouse or partner, and over 3,000 children lost parents. Nearly 6,000 mothers and fathers lost sons and daughters.

Ever stop to think about how horrible it must have been for the victims who’d been sentenced to death that day? Well, here’s a peek (be warned that it’s tough to listen to):

Does the video make you as angry as it makes me? Good God, those bastards bitch-slapped the most powerful nation on the planet. We should be acrimonious--shouldn’t we?

Well, apparently not. It seems that anger’s no longer cool. I recently heard a late night talk show host use 9/11 as a punch line in his monologue. Not this week, of course, because this is too near the anniversary, and that would be in bad taste. He didn’t mean to make light of the murders, I’m sure, but merely to score a cheap laugh by sticking a rhetorical finger in the eye of a politician. Sorry, some things will never be funny.

But humor eases pain, right?

I understand from educators and psychologists that the images of September 11 are too traumatic to be shown on television anymore. It’s not healthy to think about so much suffering, they say. I’ll defer to their expertise, but I don’t understand how we’re supposed to remember the dead if we don’t think about the plot and the people who murdered them.

And if we don’t remember the victims, how can we possibly remain vigilant? It depresses me that today’s seventh-graders likely have no concept of the trauma that the world endured on September 11, and it angers me that the world seems comfortable with that. Our children are not taught in school that bad people continue to lurk in terrorist cells planning their deaths, and yours, and mine. We teach them to fear garden-variety strangers, but not terrorists.

Is it possible that we’re just lazy? Anger is exhausting, after all, and fear is even more exhausting, so maybe it’s just human nature that we move on and try our best to forget; to let time do its thing to heal wounds. We can always remind ourselves of what it feels like if another attack comes, and then we can be angry again. We can even wave a few flags for a while.

You know, until it’s okay again to turn the tragedy into a punch line on late night television.


  1. I just wrote about that day. Just putting into words the sequence of events brought back those feelings of uncertainly and loss. The world for us changed that day. It will never be the same. And, to me, it will never be funny.

  2. I was packing for a flight to Amsterdam on 9/11. I remember standing in front of the TV as the events unfolded and wondering if the world was coming to an end. I just kept asking myself, "What's next?". There was nothing funny about it.

  3. On the first year anniversary, I wrote something for Holly Lisle's Together We Stand anthology. It's a free e-book here:

    Linda Adams

  4. I fight the terrorists every day, and have for a while now. That day I felt like I failed. Because I did. That feeling still remains. Maybe some people deal with it by laughing. Not me. Quite the opposite. I still fight the terrorists. And other bad guys who want to harm us. But I know we can't hold them off forever. I've always known that. And after 9/11, everyone knows.

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  6. I lived in Uganda when the attack happened on 9/11. I remember the horrible feeling that the safe and secure homeland that I always had to return to was no longer safe nor secure. The enemy is still out there, and hiding our heads in the sand will not make the terrorists go away. I'm not laughing.

  7. This nation has gotten way too complacent. Every year on the anniversary, I think the news channels should show the broadcast of that entire day. Difficult or not, people need to see it. And it should be required viewing in every school. (As should that UK texting while driving video, but that's another story.)

    My kids were 17 and 13 at the time. My oldest now works in the US Capitol and the thought that a plane could have hit there ... I don't even want to think that it still could happen because of our complacency.

    Show the damn videos!

  8. 9/11 will always stay with me. I was the only editor in the newsroom that morning, and I was charged with putting out the special edition. No time for grieving until I got home.

    But I'll be totally honest: I'm not worried about another al Qaeda attack. I'm worried about those gun toting town hall-ers and the hate that's being perpetrated among our own right now.

  9. I loved the WTC and used to go through it daily when I was working downtown. After I moved uptown and then finally to D.C., I got to know several traders/brokers who worked in one of the towers. My first visit back to the site several months later made me cry…I still can’t bear to see images of that day.

    I live in Old Town (Alexandria) not all far from the Pentagon. That next morning, 9/12, I could still smell the fire. We have neighbors and friends who work at the Pentagon, one of which is a Navy Dr. who was one of the first on the scene. Lots of stories…mostly sad.

  10. Pray for Peace
    Prepare for War

    ...and when war comes, for it will, draw out the scythe and harvest the enemy until the fields are drenched with their blood.

    In their place a forest will grow, fed by their flesh, and we will name it Peace and we will praise God as we sup in the Warrior Halls of Heaven.

  11. We'd do well to remember, in light of all the changes to this nation since 9/11/01 (and the previous comment) that everything we needed to stop the attacks was in place that day, and those in a position to stop it failed to do so, from government officials to airport security personnel.

    There's a difference between vigilant and paranoid, and quite a ways yet to vengeful.

  12. That was a tough video to watch, it really brought it all back. Thanks for posting it, John.
    Last week I was taken aback by a poster at our local grocery store advertising a "CELEBRATION!!!" for the second anniversary- on September 11th. I realize that life goes on, but of everything that's happened to our nation, that one event was so scarring I can't believe it hasn't been declared a national day of mourning.

    When I lived in Manhattan in the 90s and worked as a bartender, off duty cops and fireman worked the door. Three of them were killed in the towers. Not to mention the others who ended up suffering severe health consequences as a result of sifting through the rubble.
    The impact of that day dramatically shifted the world view of not just our country but so many others, and we're still enmeshed in two wars that were the fallout of that event. I don't think it will ever be an appropriate punchline.

  13. Very well said. For the record, I did have a talk with my seventh grader about the impact of the attack. She was only five when it happened, so she doesn't remember all the details. It's good to remind ourselves and to talk about it with the next generation, so they'll know the depths of evil some will sink to, just like my grandparents did with Pearl Harbor.

  14. Well said John, thank you.

    I was on my way to work at Legal Aid in Tulsa. I heard the first garbled reports on the radio and phoned my husband. My words to him were,

    "Turn on the TV, all hell has broken loose in New York."

    Our offices were sandwiched in between the county courthouse, the federal courthouse, and several state and county agencies. Within a couple of hours there were police cars at every intersection and our little administrative island in the middle of downtown was cordoned off.

    At the office we watched scratchy news reports on the TV we usually used for video conferences, bringing in what we could on the antenna. At noon, they closed our office fearing we might be trapped by the police blockade if anything else happened.

    When I got home my husband asked me if this meant war and what I thought would ultimately happen.

    Here was my reply,

    "Ask me in five years when this day has turned into an open oozing wound on the side of our economy."

    I wish I had been wrong.

    Take care everyone and make sure you hug someone you love.


  15. LAugh about 9/11? I still get pissed thinking about The Alamo and don't you dare mention Appomattox.