September 13, 2022

BEARD | Why Do We Remember

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This past Sunday marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11. 21 years ago, 19 hijackers ended the lives of almost 3,000 innocent civilians in what is one the most horrifying days in American history. 

This year, though, 21 years to the day, Sept. 11 was anything but horrifying. Sure, Instagram stories went up and some people attended memorials, but, all in all, it was a fairly normal Sunday for the majority of Cornellians and Americans in general. Which leads me to why I’m writing this column.

This Sunday, while proceeding with my normal Sunday routine, doing my normal homework,  I overheard a question that really made me think: why do we still remember 9/11? Before you dismiss it, it’s not totally a question without merit. On this particular anniversary, with the 20-year Global War on Terrorism effectively coming to an end, its actually a pretty painful piece of introspection for Americans. For those that sacrificed their time, bodies and, in some cases, their lives fighting terror for the past two decades, I can’t even imagine what thoughts may have come to mind as we watched Afghanistan slip back into the control of the Taliban.  

On the other hand, three quarters of us college students were born after the attacks. We never had to live with the consequences of the attacks. Nor will we have to “adult” in a world where the nightly body counts and reports of sucide bombings in far away lands grace our T.V. channels and air-waves. And so we circle back. With that chapter closing and with ours starting in a post-war-on-terror world, what is the relevance of 9/11?  Why should we care? 

Monday morning, I joined thousands of first responders, veterans and military personnel across the country for a workout honoring the sacrifice of New York City firefighters and police on that fateful day in 2001. Together with the rest of Cornell’s Tri-Service Brigade, we climbed 110 flights of stairs at Schoellkopf field for 45 minutes to symbolize the trips that rescuers made up and down the towers as they saved the lives of hundreds of workers. It wasn’t easy to say the least. Cadets and Midshipmen alike were sweating up and down those steps, with some even puking. Amongst our ranks though, there was a contingent of CUEMS and CUPD personnel running up the bleachers with medical packs weighing up to 60 pounds. These first responders weren’t contractually obligated to be there like the rest of us, but they were there and making the workout even harder for themselves than it already was. At one point between breaths, I asked one of them why they were doing this. He replied simply, “Because on 9/11, they were us”. 

That is about as simple of an explanation as it gets. Because on Sept. 11, 2001, we lost 3,000 of “us.” Americans, first responders, service personnel, Cornellians, friends and family. They came from all walks of life. They each woke up the morning of Sept. 11, said good-bye to their loved ones, went to work and never made it home. 

In the 20 plus years since, the world we live in has changed rapidly. The U.S. has fought two conflicts on foreign soil. Yet, evil, terrrorism and wrongdoing persist, despite our best or worst intentions. Was it worth it? Who’s to say. But, as it pertains to the memory of 9/11, that isn’t a critical judgment for our remembrance. Nothing that has happened since that day 21 years ago can change or erase the human toll. Though the years continue to pass, we’ve arrived in 2022 with 3,000 less of us thanks to the actions of 19 people. Our country forever changed, American lives extinguished, and 20 years later we can do nothing to undo it. 

That’s the frustrating part of it, isn’t it? 21 years later, all we are left with are the monuments in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania and N.Y.C., as well as all those painful memories. There is no shiny medal that reads, “We got you all back” or a trophy for winning the war on terror. So do we remember or move on? In a way, however, memory is a vehicle for moving forward. We remember those who died, we remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we remember how it felt to come together as a country and grieve. And, yes, we cannot go back in time and prevent 9/11. Nor can we change the legacy of that day. Our posterity will decide that for us. At the very least, though, what we can do is climb some steps and remember those we lost. 

Brenner Beard is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected] Agree to Disagree runs every other Friday this semester.