There are, to be sure, those who don’t think that the way visitors comport themselves at the 9/11 memorial is such a big deal: the New York Observer lightly mocked the Post‘s concerns, editorializing that the site “is a place for reverence and remembrance, but also to enjoy the weather and the company of our fellow Americans.” But how can one not respect and share the feelings of Jim Richies, a retired New York firefighter who lost his son, also a fireman, on 9/11, and who, on the day after the News reported those Brooklyn kids’ vandalism, lamented in an op-ed that disrespectful conduct at the memorial is a daily occurrence: “People hang out. They sit around. They start talking loudly and joke.” One day last September, he saw visitors “lying on the grass eating and drinking…one guy was throwing a football to another guy….that is the atmosphere the people who run the memorial have created.” At the memorials in Shanksville and at the Pentagon, both run by the National Park Service, he noted, visitors are properly prepared for the sites before entering them – and their behavior is exemplary. Why isn’t this also the case at the New York memorial, which is run by a nonprofit? Richies suggested that if the unidentified remains of the 9/11 dead were placed “in an aboveground tomb, as they are at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington,” it “would set a tone of reverence and respect.”
Most important, Richies stressed, is education. Those Brooklyn kids, when they entered the site, “should have been told that nearly 3,000 people were murdered by terrorists at the World Trade Center….it’s imperative that all, young and old, be educated about…the most tragic day in American history.” There, alas, is the rub: even Americans old enough to have experienced 9/11 have had the events of that day “interpreted” for them again and again, over the years, by politicians, journalists, commentators, and the like who have, in effect, beclouded that day’s exceedingly clear lessons. As for the schoolchildren who are too young to have any memories at all of 9/11, what exactly are they being taught nowadays about it? Do they emerge from these lessons, if any, with an enhanced appreciation for the freedom that is their precious inheritance as Americans and that was under assault on that September day? It’s an easy bet that they’re not provided with a reasonable account of jihad – of the barbaric values in which it is rooted and of the sundry forms it takes, most of them infinitely subtler yet even more menacing to American liberty than terror itself. As a rule, those who teach or who prepare “educational” materials about such matters nowadays in the U.S. are, quite simply, too straitjacketed by their own (or their institutions’) political correctness and/or chronic timidity to provide the kind of candid lessons about 9/11 and its meaning that might produce young people capable of exhibiting authentic respect and reverence at what was once Ground Zero and, before that, the Twin Towers.
Yes, it’s been eleven years now. Time goes by. Everything changes. But the struggle against jihad is still underway – a war that is being waged less and less, as time goes by, in the Muslim world, and more and more in the West itself, on our own turf. It’s a subtler war, a psychological and cultural war, a war of attrition – a war that needs to be honestly explained and thoroughly comprehended if it is going to be taken seriously and won. It was 9/11 that, for many Americans, marked the explosive beginning of an awareness of this war – an awareness of just how serious and dedicated an enemy we were up against, and just how vital it was for us to be every bit as serious and dedicated as they are (not to mention fully aware of their mentality and methods). Eleven years – but 9/11 is still not an event that can or should be relegated to or treated as pure history: if we’re going to expect adults and children alike to grasp its import, to treat its memory with the proper respect, and – above all – to embrace their own obligation as free citizens to respond to it (and other jihadist provocations) in brave, honorable, and constructive ways, it’s essential that they be helped to recognize the scope and significance of the worldwide struggle in which 9/11 was the dramatic high point – and on whose resolution hinges the hope of freedom.
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