9/11 Memory vs History

I’ve sit down to draft this post about nine times now.  Each time I keep trashing it.  What makes it hard to collect thoughts is precisely the underlying issue I was trying to draw out.  Those who live through events, like those on 9/11, we have the baggage of memory, both personal and collective, to handle as we offer the historical recording and interpretation of the events.

Over the last few days, today, and perhaps  the next few days, prose in the op-ed sections of the dailies will focus on 9/11.  Most will look back ten years, attempting to interpret how the world has changed… or hasn’t (or as one I’ve read this morning says, how we need to reset back).  A few will strike up some historical comparisons.  Opinions about 9/11 already make alternate parallels to the USS Maine and to Pearl Harbor… or to other events in our history remembered as causal events associated with wars.

That would be fine, mostly.  But the interpretation of current events through the lens of history is a perilous task.  Simply put, the historian writing of his/her current events only knows from experience.  Even the primary documents (first hand accounts, official accounts) lack the contextual cement that good historians use to plant the foundation of interpretation.  And of course the other aspect is the historian’s personal experience that caveats the assembly of facts, in no small way determining what is important within the body of facts.  In short, a historian writing about events occurring within their recent memory is at best one or two steps removed from the stereotypical “man in the street.”

As I look back at my own personal experience, I must say that is true.  I carry a lot of “baggage” around to discuss with this subject – not directly from that day September day ten years ago, but from the events which occurred in my life, both professional and personal, for which 9/11 was the proximate cause.  I didn’t know, personally that is, anyone who died on that day.  I know some who bled that day, but thankfully none that died.  On the other hand I know, personally, more than I can count who bled since then.  And unfortunately some of those are no longer with us.  For me, I cannot think or discuss 9/11 in isolation.  What happened after that day has left an impression which will forever refocus my memory of 9/11.

For me, 9/11 was lightning which produced a thunder still echoing ten years later.


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