How Do We Memorialize 9/11 Twenty Years Later?

Will Baiers

Twenty years have passed since four airplanes were hijacked within a matter of hours, killing nearly 3,000 innocent civilians and dividing the world in two. Yet the suffering was not over then, as thousands more were physically injured or exposed to harmful toxins at the scene of the madness. Additionally, many survivors and first responders still face episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder, as if their bravery has only been rewarded by continuous streams of pain.

This year, hundreds assembled around the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the anniversary of the attacks, standing just steps away from where the Twin Towers once stood. Among the list of attendees were President Joe Biden along with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Relatives of those who perished recounted stories and read off the names of their loved ones, the crowd collectively donning blue ribbons to stand in solidarity. 

A similar gathering took place in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former President George W. Bush acknowledged the “growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come, not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.” Vice President Kamala Harris also paid her respects, saying “that unity is imperative in America” and “essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and to our standing in the world.” Moments of silence, whether held at the Pentagon or individual households, echoed a similar sense of remembrance. 

The twentieth anniversary of these attacks occurred less than a month after the U.S. withdrew from the War in Afghanistan, which was the longest war in U.S. history. Since 9/11 unquestionably heightened American military involvement in the Middle East, fallen U.S. soldiers must also be memorialized and included in the conversations of families nationwide. 

Memorializing 9/11 only becomes more challenging now that incoming high school students were born years after the attacks, making the story almost impossible to believe without experiencing the day firsthand. Although most adults can remember life before the planes struck, younger generations have no perception of a pre-9/11 nation. According to two professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “the majority of the history teachers tend to teach about 9/11 primarily on the date of the anniversary each year.” Consequently, teachers “are often limited to one class session” on the topic, preventing the magnitude of 9/11, as well as the decisions which led to it, from being recognized by students. Offering an incomplete narrative takes away from the importance of memorializing 9/11, as students are not fully educated on why this history matters. 

While the phrase “Never Forget” is chanted repeatedly on September 11th of each passing year, memorializing the thousands of lives lost is only the first step in preventing this violence from repeating itself. A complete understanding of the full story—and the events leading up to and following the attacks—must be instilled in every young person across the globe to keep future generations informed and passionate about learning the reality of 9/11. 

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