History is a funny thing. Nobody really knows when it began and it’s difficult to pinpoint when it ends too. When does the past become history? How much time must elapse before significant past events migrate into the historian’s textbook, five, 10, 20 years? Does the magnitude of the event matter? Surely what you or I ate for dinner last week will never count as history, but which events do get to count and when do they start counting?
It has been 12 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s a day that I will always remember. My father survived the attack on the Pentagon, an attack I watched unfold live on television. But as this anniversary approaches the question seems to arise: When will September 11, 2001 become just another date in history? When will it become the stuff of school quizzes, of term papers, of trivia questions?
Eventually all major events become history, they get recorded, memorized, inscribed on something somewhere. Eventually they become sterilized by the historian’s pen. Is now that time for 9/11?
Some people will obviously take offense to the question itself, I know I did at first. As the son of someone who survived the attacks 9/11 is deeply personal for me. Watching the fire and smoke gush from the building where my father worked, I truly felt fear for the first time. Yet, the more I think about it the more I realize that that fear is an ever more distant memory. It’s no longer raw but more like a scar that you’ve stopped noticing, the kind that hasn’t yet begun to fade with age but no longer catches your eye. It’s the kind of scar that has just recently become a story.
Isn’t that what these kinds of historical events are anyway, scars on our collective existence? Isn’t that what history is, the story behind the scars?
It’s an open question. Certainly other major national tragedies have become history. Pearl Harbor certainly lives in infamy, but it’s an infamy that has been confined to textbooks and documentaries. President Kennedy’s death is something anyone over the age of 55 remembers, but they’ve all long since stopped weeping for Jackie, John Jr., and their family.
Eventually this will happen for 9/11 too right? The memorial ceremonies will become fewer and fewer, the speeches shorter, the memories foggier. The anniversary will stop being news. Bells won’t be rung for the victims. No guns will fire in salute. No candles will be lit, no wreaths laid. The day that woke America up to the dangerous evil of Islamist terrorism will become history. Maybe it already has.
Matt Cover is Content Editor at Rare. Follow him on Twitter @MattCover
- Images of the 9/11 flag (cnn.com)
- Golf course offers tacky 9/11 discount: 9 holes of golf $9.11 on September 11 (examiner.com)