“Never Forget!” But Why?


“If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.” ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in American history. What’s signifcant about the 18th anniversary? It means that those 18-year-old voting adults who were born after 9/11/2001, and are responsible for determining our nation’s future, have lived their entire lives in the age of terrorism. But what does that mean? Did our world really change?

Yes, it did

Before 9/11, I wrote a sample script for the Simpsons television series in which Homer accidentally stops a comically confused terrorist from blowing up an airplane. The script was well-received, but was criticized for being “unrealistic.” Why? Because, I was told, “people don’t blow up airplanes.”

After 9/11, my Simpsons script was unusable, because it was “too real.” Our culture had acquired collective PTSD, as all cultures do after such catastrophic events. People bind together at such times, too, rediscovering what makes them an us, pledging to heal physical and emotional wounds, and vowing to “Never forget!”

But we do forget. Especially the youngest among us who don’t remember the event to begin with. I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked, so it was hard for me to comprehend how, or even that, it had affected my world. But I remember the successive assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK that became known as our culture’s collective “loss of innocence.” And it’s true, they were. Something had changed forever. Just as it did on Pearl Harbor Day.

In his book Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, historian Wilfred M. McClay (to whom I am also indebted for the Singer quote) says,

“A culture without memory will necessarily be barbarous and easily tyrannized, even if it is technologically advanced. The incessant waves of daily events will occupy all our attention.”

But why does that matter? Because, McClay adds,

“Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity. Without memory, without the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are.”

Those 18-year-olds who live so proudly in the present (just like I did), often disdain the past as irrelevant. And never more than in the 21st century when their eyes and ears are constantly fixed via portable devices to what’s happening right now. This, McClay reminds us, is what novelist John Dos Passos rather bluntly labelled “the idiot delusion of the exceptional Now.”

The past is not irrelevant: It is the foundation (both for good and for bad) upon which our present is built. In other words, it’s a part of our story, not just “theirs.” And if we don’t remember it, as George Santayana famously said, “we are doomed to repeat it.” And that is why we must…

Never forget!

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, Quips and Quotes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to “Never Forget!” But Why?

  1. Kim Smyth says:

    I will never forget, that’s for sure, then again, I’m 58, so I remember more than 9/11, like the assassinations you mentioned. I’m curious how you feel about the ridiculous posts going around on social media yesterday saying never forget, yet pointing to conspiracy theories like the claim that the attacks were not attacks at all but “staged” events, the buildings fell because of bombs, and trillions of dollars were lost just the day before 9/11. Supposedly, we staged the events of 9/11 to breed hate and fearmongering.
    Why, why would our government kill thousands of innocent people for that reason?? Makes no sense to me. Just curious at your thoughts on this.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Amen, well said! God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amen! We can’t be focused on the “present,” as portrayed by the media. So much of the “information” coming over the airways and on the internet is fake, staged, and deliberately misrepresented. We love in a very confused society.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. LIVE in a very confused society. (Hoping we love, too, though…)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. We must never forget the evil that man can do. I will never forget the horror that I felt as I was riveted to the television. I will never forget the tears I shed as I toured Auschwitz. I will never forget JFK, RFK, and MLK. We must never forget. We must pray for our nation!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So true. Just as our own personal histories make up the fiber of who we are–so does the history of our country make up the fabric of what it represents and means to American’s and to the world. Hopefully, while people remembered the horror of yesterday they also remembered the helpers running into help and the flags waving and the prayer services with numerous languages spoken. We are not a perfect country, but watch us during a crisis and you realize just how inherently good our citizens desire to be. I love us. (most of the time!)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. pkadams says:

    Thank you for this insightful post. And that’s really cool that you wrote for The Simpsons! Was that a full-time gig? My family grew up with Homer and Bart.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Persuasively argued, Mitch. I think the thesis could be expanded to include issues like, the reliability (or lack of same) of certain history books, and instances when history can be abused such as when people are obsessively focused on injustices their ancestors suffered at the hands of someone else’s ancestors. As a Choctaw, my Native American ancestors were severely abused by some of my Scots-Irish ancestors. My Choctaw genes have decided to forgive the Scots-Irish ones and get on with my life. Not making light of your essay, that just slipped out. 😉 Good piece.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Clever Girl says:

    Ask anyone old enough to remember exactly where they were and what they were doing that day, and they can tell you the most specific details. It left an enormous impact. I kinda wish I could forget… who wants to remember such horrific events? That’s a rhetorical question.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ok Mitch you got me on this on And I am humbly admitting I was wrong. And I am risking vulnerability and backlash for what I am about to say.
    When 9/11 came through Wednesday, I thought to myself ” I will not write about it. What we focus on continues” and in most cases people are still angry and still see us as victims…AND WE WERE.
    Are we still vulnerable “yes, much of the world distains us right now.”
    I just want us to see ourselves as people moving fwd to take thought in stopping this again, in the strength of our unity.
    What happened that day was unthinkable. And those that died should be honored.
    If we herald “it happened once but never again” I can get with that.
    But if it is a sorrowful memory, rehashing of our vulnerability in the past, our victimization.. I cannot get with that.
    Because what / and the way/ we focus is what continues to grow.

    I want to be from a strong America that has compassion for those who suffered at every angle of this disaster and then I want to feel that sense of pride we all had when we came together as one country and vowed never to let it happen again.

    It is important to keep it for front in our memory — to honor and to prevent.

    But I will bot uphold the victim part of it– honor of memory yes– VICTIM NO
    we are over-comers who have to be mindful of those involved and a commitment to stopping terrorism from reaching us in the future.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. nancyehead says:

    I have my own vivid memories of JFK, RFK, King, and 9/11. My mother retold her memories of Pearl Harbor Day. She was sweeping the basement on a Sunday morning and the announcement came over the radio. She said she shut it off to make it go away. But of course, it didn’t.

    My father served in the South Pacific as a navy corpsman. Mother joined the Coast Guard. She was a typist, ironically in Oklahoma.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for reminding us of the need for stories to be told and retold and told again. My parents often spoke of Pearl Harbor and how it changed their lives. But, not until I read your post did I stop to think of how much the world I grew up in was shaped and formed by that moment in history – even as today’s children live is a world shaped by September 11.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. HAT says:

    Ironically, I am now teaching church history, and am acutely aware of how much history 18-year-old adults don’t know. But more than that, of how remote and alien the past seems, as if it were not made by human beings in their passionate confusion and devotion and ambition, just as we are now making what will be “history” for the generations to come. This is the really immense forgetting, I think – that “history” is people and people’s lives. Which means that how we live ours is … decisive.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What resonates most with me is the John dos Passos quote: “the idiot delusion of the exceptional Now.” What makes the Now exceptional is all of the Thens which comprise it.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Jennie says:

    Well said, Mitch. The past is not irrelevant. At school, 9/11 is Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks for one of the very few 9-11 commemorations that is not maudlin or repetitive.

    Live in the present but learn from the past.  Easier said than done, as is common for what is really worth doing.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. So well stated, my friend. Thank you on behalf of America. Too, it is also important to know WHO it is trying to blow you up. It doesn’t really take that many. Even in Nazi Germany, only 12 % of the population were Nazis.And look at the damage of that regime. Today, some joker would say that you were stereotyping when we used to call it inductive logic: generalization. Yep, you can’t forget and our guard must all be up.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. TEP336 says:

    I was in bed asleep. I slept through the entire attack. At the time, I worked the closing shift at Taco Bell, and had gotten home about 4:30 that morning.

    As near as I can guess it, right after the second plane hit at the WTC, my girlfriend at the time called me from work, screaming about a terrorist attack.

    The rest is fuzzy, and I have no idea what I said to her in response, but I do know that I went back to sleep. Later, when I woke up, I was in for a shock.

    I’m not gonna lie, I cried and threw up once the full weight of what had happened dawned on me.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I was working as a framer in a prefab housing plant. I’ll never forget the smell of sawdust and my coworker writing 9-1-1, emergency in the sawdust and a day without a contrail in the sky.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s