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We remember: 11 years later, wounds of 9/11 still fresh in U.S. culture

September 11th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

By Natasha Bodily

LOGAN—Today marks the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite the passage of time, Al Quaeda’s assaults continue to affect American life, politics and culture.

Last year, on the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center’s destruction, USU history professor Ross Peterson shared his and many others’ experiences and memories of the national tragedy.

More than 3,000 people died 11 years ago today, when 19 Al Quaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, and into a field in Pennsylvania, when passengers overpowered the hijackers. CNN image

In his speech, Peterson quoted Thomas Bailey, a Stanford historian: “The truth is often less important than what people think is the truth.”

With more than a decade passing since the infamous day when more than 3,000 people died, the preservation of the facts is increasingly important.

Joe Lamb, a graduate student in history, was working on his undergraduate degree in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 11, 2001. He was working in a retail business when a student came back from class and said a small plane had hit a building in New York City.

“I thought it was just a single engine airplane that hit the building,” Lamb said. “But then more students kept coming in and we turned on the TV, and realized it was much, much more than that.”

Politically, Lamb said he thought some things could have gone differently.

“I was against invading Iraq; I thought it was a huge mistake.” He said he didn’t think Saddam Hussein necessarily had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. But, he said, “I think we needed to get Osama Bin Laden and go into Afghanistan.”

Lamb believes it’s still too recent for historians to delve into.

“I think it will remain current as long as we have boots on foreign soil,” he said.

Peterson agreed the tragedy is still recent history, too fresh to understand fully. “The critical analysis, deep examination of all sources and a thorough summation is not yet possible,” he said.

In his 2011 speech, Peterson noted that the initial spirit of national unity was quickly followed with “virulent divisiveness.”

English Department head Jeannie Thomas remembers hearing about the initial attacks on the radio before heading to a dentist’s office, where she heard and saw more of the World Trade Center towers burning. At the time, she was teaching a class on folklore, and decided to change her original class plans to build paper airplanes, realizing it would be inappropriate.

“That is my 9/11 class,” Thomas said. She had her students survey and document what people were doing. “I just really remember the students in that class.” They cried together when reading some of the responses to the documentation they had discovered.

Thomas and her students created a 9/11 project chronicling people’s responses to the attacks that is hosted at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Thomas, whose son was a toddler at the time, at first did not think her son would absorb what was transpiring on the TV. But until one day, “he walked up to the television and started hitting it, saying ‘bad, bad.’ I immediately turned it off,” she said.

Lamb knew two people very closely affected by the attacks.

“There was a person from a small town in Nebraska, close to where I grew up, who worked in the towers and was killed. The other person I knew had an office [in the Towers], and he wasn’t there that day,” he said.

Reflecting on how USU dealt with the aftermath of 9/11, Peterson recalled a candlelit memorial service on the Quad. He was asked to speak and, after his remarks, a “soft, solitary voice began to sing ‘God Bless America,’” he said. The crowd continued on with “America the Beautiful.”

A few weeks after the ceremony, Peterson said a previously scheduled USU Alumni-sponsored tour took him and a group to New York and Washington, D.C. He recognized a sense of unity, but this sense of national unity dissolved as the thirst for revenge plunged the country into long, drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—America’s longest war.

In popular culture, one can look back to Oct. 30, 2010, when Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert sponsored a “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, which drew more than 215,000 people to the National Mall in an attempt to bridge the divides between national factions.

Remembering 9/11 can bring back images of fear, patriotism and war. In moving forward, perhaps new and more tolerant generations will come to a place of respect for those who lost their lives, and a goal of peace and reconciliation with other nations and peoples.


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