Opinion: ‘Our moral obligation to never forget 9/11’

Firefighters make their way through the rubble after two airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York bringing down the landmark buildings, Sept. 11, 2001.

Firefighters make their way through the rubble after two airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York bringing down the landmark buildings, Sept. 11, 2001.

Shawn Baldwin / Associated Press

Our society has become inured to horror. We flock to films that depict the brutal and evil among us, and gleefully cheer for depraved behaviors we see onscreen. The success of franchises such as “The Purge,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Saw” is a case in point. It’s the same with many popular video games, such as “Mortal Kombat” and “Call of Duty.” In “Manhunt,” players are required to murder gang members in gruesome ways; the gorier the death, the higher the score. The game is so grisly that Germany banned it altogether. But for fans of this genre, the bloodier, the better.

Some would say that horror movies and violent video games are harmless entertainment designed to distract us from real life. The problem, as I see it, is that we have become all too accustomed to real-life horrors, and our response, as a society, has largely been to take them in stride.

I think that is happening with the memory of 9/11.

We only have to think of mass school shootings to see how it works. The 1999 Columbine shooting rocked the nation. A few years later, in 2007, dozens died by gunfire at Virginia Tech. Twenty first-graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2021. Parkland, Sante Fe, Umpqua, Red Lake, Santa Monica, Uvalde ... the list goes on. After each shooting, we collectively shook our heads and offered a few empty platitudes before going on with our regularly scheduled lives.

It’s only been seven months since the war began between Russia and Ukraine. The outrage was palpable when Russia first invaded. Zelensky’s heroism stole the headlines. Americans wondered how to help Ukraine, sent donations, flew yellow and blue flags. The flags may still dot our lawns, but the atrocities rarely come up in regular conversation.

Consider the Holocaust. Seventy-five years later, with fewer and fewer survivors left each day to say otherwise, the internet is rife with websites questioning whether it even happened at all.

When Islamic terrorists orchestrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on our soil, we were aghast. The Wahhabi Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaeda, hijacked four planes; two collapsed the Twin Towers; one set the Pentagon ablaze; and Flight 93 fell in a fiery crash onto a Pennsylvania field, diverted from its probable course to the White House or Capitol Building by the heroism of passengers onboard.

That tragic day, we lost nearly 3,000 lives. Around the world millions saw the attacks on television, shocked by scenes of the second plane hitting the south tower, of bodies falling from windows, of the debris-filled air, of panicked people crying and running in the streets.

For months we came together in the spirit of patriotism, from waving flags off highway bridges to wearing NYPD hats. At baseball games, fans held up signs saying, “We are all Yankees” and “Dear New York, I’m sorry.” We marked the anniversary with poignant ceremonies and communal tears and rebuilt the Twin Towers into a memorial site.

Two decades later, many Americans are too young to recall the events of September 2001. I have to ask: has the memory slowly begun to wane?

We complain about having to wait in hours-long security lines before a flight. We complain about taking our shoes off, about being subjected to full-body scanners, about being forbidden to bring liquids on airplanes. It’s a hassle, we say, as if we’ve forgotten all about the horrific attacks that necessitated these precautions.

To a large degree, the memory of 9/11 has settled into just another historical event we take in stride. The utter devastation of the day has faded and we’ve tucked it away along with the other horrors we’ve hardened ourselves to.

But as philosopher George Santayana said in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

It is our moral obligation to never forget 9/11. To never forget what can happen when evil ideologies, born in countries with little or no American intelligence, are allowed to fester into terrorist organizations that have the means to strike America. We are already dangerously close to forgetting what happened the first time the Taliban targeted the west ... and now, with the demise of Afghanistan, the Taliban are back, and it seems we’re forgetting that, too.

We mustn’t forget, or allow ourselves to be inured to, the violence of Sept. 11, 2001. We must remember the freedom and liberty and way of life that is at stake.

Greenwich resident Dr. Jim White is founder and CEO of PHT Investment Group LLC, as well as chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc. He is the bestselling author of five books, including “ Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds “ and “ Broken America: Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America .” He shares his insights and critical thinking skills in a webcast series, “ Healing America with Dr. Jim White .”