Remembering 9-11

The nation no longer commemorates the anniversary of attack on Pearl Harbor as it used to.

While President Franklin Roosevelt predicted that Dec. 7, 1941, would be a "date which will live in infamy," not many of today's younger Americans would be able to recall it. Some may not even know the historical facts surrounding the attack.

Though it happened much more recently, the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, no longer is commemorated nationwide. Those who had friends and relatives inside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building the day Timothy McVeigh set off the explosion that killed 168 people and injured 800 no doubt will always remember the date. But most Americans have forgotten the date, if not the event itself.

That raises the question: How much longer will the date Sept. 11, 2001, remain emblazoned on the minds of a majority of Americans? As we prepare to mark the sixth anniversary on Tuesday of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, are we still moved to the same mix of apprehension, sadness and anger we were on that day and on each successive 9-11?

Some complain of 9-11 fatigue, the sense that the collective memorial events, the news coverage, the retreading of the same ground is excessive, increasingly trivial and perhaps even annoying. For these critics, the attitude is, enough is enough, let's move on.

Others, however, recoil at the idea that the nation would ever play down memories of that day, that we would ever fail to recall the outrage and horror resulting from the worst attack by an enemy on American soil in the nation's history. We must never forget, they say.

Perhaps, though, for the vast number of Americans, there is an appropriate middle ground. Few, we suspect, would ever endorse the idea that the nation should forget or fail to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001, and both the horror of the attack and the bravery of firefighters, police and other rescuers that day.

But six years have passed, long enough to have reflected again and again on the events of 9-11. Long enough for some to have callously exploited those events for their own political purposes. Long enough for the national consensus on what 9-11 represents and how it should figure in our domestic and foreign policy to have splintered.

After four years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, more Americans have lost their lives there than on 9-11. For most Americans, the war is of more immediate concern than the 9-11 attacks. Also, since 9-11, the nation has been through Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech massacre.

Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, still is alive and in hiding. He reportedly will release a taped message in advance of Tuesday's anniversary, his first in nearly three years.

That, perhaps, is a more potent reminder than the anniversary itself that the terrorist threat remains one we must cope with daily. But the debate as to how best to confront that threat and how it figures in our overall security has expanded and become more contentious. The solidarity of purpose we felt in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks has vanished.

The arrival of another anniversary will evoke different and diverse meanings for different people. While 9-11 always will be viewed as a watershed event in the nation's history, it also will take on new interpretations as time passes.

We need to commemorate the day and remember the dead. But a scaled-back ceremony now seems more appropriate -- a tolling of bells, a moment of silence.

In short, let us commemorate 9-11 as a nation but also let individual Americans remember 9-11 each in his or her own way.


Should nation scale back commemoration of the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks?

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