Frenzied pounding on the front door woke me; pounding, blended with shouts to turn on the television. It wasn’t even seven in the morning yet in Washington State, and I was alone because my young SAR dog was spending a night being neutered at the emergency veterinary clinic where I worked.
Head muzzy with not enough sleep, I answered the door only to have my visitor push into my living room and flip on the television himself.
The Twin Towers went down.
When it was over, 2,977 innocent lives had been brutally, evilly extinguished.
September 11, 2001.
You remember where you were. Where your loved ones were. We all do. It’s been 17 years, and for some the memories have yet to gain the soft-edged haze typical of most decade-plus-old recollections.
In 1941, FDR referred to Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live in infamy.” Sixty years later, President George W. Bush stood atop the rubble in New York and proclaimed, in response to an onlooker’s yell that he could not hear the president, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
Say what you will about George W. Bush, but at only eight months into his presidency, he took the defiant stance necessary to respond to what happened on that day.
Too few Americans have held onto the righteous anger and fury of 9/11. As the years have passed, parents have failed to educate their children – the public school system certainly won’t participate – and we have become a nation concerned not with defending our homeland against all comers, but one wringing its softened hands in fear of offending the very group that attempted to take us down 17 years ago.
The group that danced in the streets, laughed in convenience stores, and crowed with delight at our massacred brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends, and fellow countrymen. Delight displayed on our own nation’s streets, nonetheless; delight quite literally rubbed in the faces of Americans in shock and mourning within minutes of the attacks. And yet we don’t dare draw cartoons, make speeches – or even offhand remarks – let alone social media posts, or, God forbid, pen articles that might somehow offend Islam.
On September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush firmly stated “None of us will ever forget this day.” Seventeen years later, we are a nation of amnesiacs.
Many of us have forgotten, and we should be ashamed.
You only have to sweep through your newsfeed on Facebook to find examples of supposedly offensive behavior. It isn’t limited only to Americans, either. We have the dead of incidents like Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, Nice, Ft. Hood and other smaller attacks for proof of terrorism based on behaviors deemed Islam-offensive.
With terrorists wanting only to murder people in countries all around the globe – all in the name of Islam – you’d think there’d be more outrage. Molten rage. White-hot fury. Instead, we cower. We cower, and we toe the line.
There is something wrong with a nation that’s willing to bury its head in the sand, literally bending over and taking it from those who have murdered its citizens. Murdered, that is, not in ones and twos or even dozens or hundreds, but by the thousands. All in the name of Islam, at the end of guns, the press of a suicide bomber’s trigger, and the bloody, rusty tip of many beheading blades.
A piece of the blame for this willful amnesia goes to the media. Today’s culture is ludicrously dependent on the mainstream media for its information, soaking in whatever is doled out with disturbing complacency. In the wake of 9/11, the media quickly began censoring the images deemed disturbing, using the type of logic being utilized with rising frequency; see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Evil hadn’t just knocked at America’s door, it had kicked it in with one swift blow. Even so, the media became the heavy blindfold many citizens sought out. “It’s okay,” the media machine croons, “it was all a bad dream. There are no monsters in the closet, no terrorists under the bed.” And the nation tuned in at 6 for the 9/11 lite version of what was and is a truly bloody reality.
One image in particular quickly disappeared, an image that should rightly be permanently imprinted on the minds of Americans as a symbol of the cold realities of 9-11. It is a photograph titled simply “The Falling Man”, taken by AP photographer Richard Drew, and although its title accurately describes its content, it fails to encompass the whole of its importance. It was taken at 9:41:15 AM, and in it, the North Tower fills the background – the North Tower, by then filled with the smoke and flames created by American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into it at roughly 440 mph at 8:46 AM.
Searing heat boiled from the tower at temperatures as high as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, and inside, Americans were trapped, flesh bubbling, hair singeing.
Small wonder some jumped from the tower rather than endure the horrific agony inside. Small wonder some chose to take matters into their own hands in one final display of control.
The man falling headfirst in Drew’s photograph is believed to be 43-year-old Jonathan Briley, an employee in a restaurant on the 106th floor of the North Tower. In the famous image, which is one of twelve shots taken, his back is straight and one leg is bent in an almost casual manner. He is falling to his death, and he is only one of two hundred to perish in that manner on that day.
“The Falling Man” received some press early on, but after being criticized as “disturbing” it quickly disappeared. It shows the horror of 9/11 in a way few captured, and it was deemed too upsetting for public consumption.
The general public apparently needs to be handled with kid gloves and not be shown anything that might hammer home the reality of 9/11. Heaven forbid any American be forced or even nudged in the general direction of cold, hard reflection on the evil of the terrorists responsible for that day, and heaven forbid we offend them now.
There are those who suggest rather insistently it’s intolerant to suggest Islam is in any way, shape, or form a problem. After all, some would say, people have been killing in the name of various religions for hundreds – thousands – of years. And while it’s true there cannot be an all-encompassing classification of any group in any one way, it’s also true in cases such as this that silence is as good as consent.
It is past time a change be made. Past time for the truly horrifying, and, yes, disturbing images of 9/11 to be shown again on national television, not only on 9/11, but on a regular basis. This is not just about the failure of adults to remember just what went on 17 years ago, it’s also about the next generation.
We are raising a generation of children who fail to even remotely grasp the gravity of the day, children who watch their elders’ every move and see only a mass of followers carefully working not to offend the very ones dead set on taking our nation down to its knees.
This is not about the classification of an entire group as good or bad, right or wrong. This is about terrorism, plain and simple. This is about remembering our dead, honoring their memories, and fighting for what is right.
This article was originally published in 2018.