It has been 5,113 days since four commercial airliners departing from airports on the east coast were hijacked, effectively becoming guided missiles, wreaking large-scale destruction and ushering in a new era of terrorism. Has it really been 14 years since Sept. 11, 2001?
While the images and memories of that day are seared into the brains and hearts of American adults, we have now entered a period where 9/11 is history for most of today’s school children. It isn’t even a distant memory anymore for them; it was an event that changed the world before they even entered the world. Today’s high school seniors might have fleeting memories of that time period, but younger students likely have none at all.
Even this year’s college freshmen and sophomore classes were too young then to have much understanding of what had occurred. And it seems likely that before long, 9/11 will be purely a historic moment, much like the Dec. 7 anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, trigger for America’s entry into World War II.
Now, it’s true that there are regular reminders about that awful day; whether it be passing through security at an airport, discussing the problems that Afghanistan and Iraq veterans deal with in terms of PTSD and healthcare, or driving past the many memorials, such as the one in Wellington. Less visibly, millions of security cameras track our movements, and the government has amassed vast powers to collect information through post-9/11 legislation like the USA Patriot Act.
Despite this, time has lessened the impact we feel on a daily basis. The sense of fear that gripped our nation in the immediate days and weeks following the attack has dissipated, and terrorism — while still out there as a threat — has taken a back seat to the economy and other issues in the current presidential campaign. Relaxing our senses is a natural part of humanity, but it can be a bit scary. Terrorism should not be relegated to an afterthought. Of the many things done in the United States since 9/11, some were intelligent (such as reinforcing cockpit doors on jetliners), others not so much (such as the much-mocked and ignored color-coded alert system).
But after 14 years, it’s time to reassess the threat and recalibrate the responses. To a large degree, the threat has evolved. It might not be as organized as when, say, Osama bin Laden was in charge of al-Qaeda, but it’s still out there, and as our attention span wanes, and we follow other troubling events, we pay less attention to the threat that is always out there.
Dealing with terrorism is a difficult job. Our security forces are always on the defense, hoping we can gain knowledge of our enemies’ plans. But those plans can be shrouded in deception, and sometimes we don’t know what those plans are, or how seriously we should consider them. And we hope not to be taken by surprise, or to react too slowly to make a difference.
But first and foremost is to keep the memory alive. That is why observances such as the one this Friday in Wellington is so important. Wellington will host its annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on Friday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Wellington Patriot Memorial, located at 12198 W. Forest Hill Blvd. Speakers will include John Napolitano, a Wellington resident who lost his son, FDNY Lt. John P. Napolitano, in the tragedy, and Denise Makarius, a Wellington resident who lost her husband from the effects of the tragedy. Make a point to check it out. If you can’t make it for the event, visit the Patriot Memorial and help keep the memory alive.