9 - 11 Fifteen Years Later: Don’t Let Future Generations Learn the Wrong Lesson

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE September 11, 2017

Reprinting on the 16th anniversary of 9-11

Fifteen years - where has the time gone? Time no longer stands still for those of us old enough to have fully experienced the day, the events.  But by 9:30 am on 9/11, a day of horrors, when questions of accident turned to confirmation of attack, as we saw people jump out of the Tower, with video of planes flying into buildings burning permanent images in our brain, the world did stop for us - us being the civilized world. Strangers became neighbors in the blink of an eye. Kindness flowed where curt even cruel behaviors once occurred. Doors opened, generosity shared, smiles exchanged.  It was a page out of Walton's Mountain - depression era camaraderie sharing tough times together with class and compassion. It was much like the world my Dad described recounting to me his boyhood during the Depression. Personal stories are more powerful than pages from a book. That is for me one of the messages, and the obligation we have to future generations, to tell these stories...this is how we honor the fallen on 9/11. 

We owe our future generations an up close and personal view of their nation... in a brief time of a few months, in the aftermath of a horror of horrors, we the people of America were living up to our higher angels. We owe that imagery, sensibility, and inspiration to our children who never experienced 9/11 and the months following, the way we did.

In addition to 9/11, we also owe our children a true accounting of America in the 21st century - our generosity in Haiti, Japan, and war-torn, earthquake damaged, tsunami ravaged and economically challenged places across the globe.

"This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today....we are going to have to come together and fight it together."   ~ Tony Blair, Prime Minister, The United Kingdom

Are we fighting it today? We did in 2001, and the fight is not over, nor is it won. Have we taught the next generations they will face a battlefield unlike any contemporary Americans have fought, or that there is an enemy within our midst more deadly than we have encounter in more than 50 years?

Those of us with any connection to 9-11, terrorism, or the three locations which have become sacred ground, memorials really, have a kaleidoscope of memories - different in imagery perhaps, but not unlike the scenes flashing in the minds of our fellow citizens; many of whom prior to that fateful day, never heard the terms counterterrorism, antiterrorism, Al Qaeda, or Jihad, never mind the differences between Islam and radical Islam.  

I trained some, and worked with many who responded to Ground Zero. And like many others with skin in the game, I can still picture the faces of colleagues lost - brave firefighters and medics who rushed where angels dared to tread, and gave their last full measure of devotion to help the victims. They lived the notion that we all are our brother's keeper, and the ideal that if one American is threatened, we all are.  Response professionals, and one could argue most Americans don't sit on the sidelines safe and secure when someone is attacked; we respond as a neighbor, a nation, as a team.

Flying over ground zero two weeks after the savage attack by vicious killers who murdered nearly 3000 innocent people on 9-11, well it was an image unlike any of my many ‘were you there' moments. The thick black smoke continued to emanate from the smoldering rubble of what once was a vibrant economic financial center in lower Manhattan, and rose thousands of feet into the sky. It reminded me of the tiny bubbles of oil I saw floating to the surface of the Pacific. Nearly 75 years after Pearl Harbor, oil escapes from the wreck of the USS Arizona, the victim of another sneak attack on our nation, now resting on the ocean floor.  But the experience was more powerful than just the imagery of destruction a few thousand feet below us.

One of my most powerful memories of the post 9/11 days was what happened on a flight not long after the attack.  As anyone who has flown - even half empty planes are noisy with conversations filling the air. But like dominoes to the touch, as the plane inched its way North, and each row of passengers came in view of the smoke, the effect was immediate and haunting silence; every row in rapid succession was encased in a sense of quiet. Silently people on the away side of the plane were invited to come view what we all watched from our windows. No one spoke, but looking into each others' eyes - friends, colleagues and strangers - that said everything and captured all our feelings. Feelings we all shared were transmitted in a look... disbelief, sorrow, outrage, anger, violation, and a sense of connectedness.  The plane remained silent until someone started a prayer.

For many of us in the aftermath of 9/11 we have spent what seems like a lifetime working on preparedness or response or counter-terrorism or something that could protect our country, our countrymen, our neighbors, and reduce the risk of a future 9/11.  To be sure many of us have seen progress in our respective fields, and, sadly, seen that same success squandered through time, attrition, and poor political leadership.  

Does 9/11 still matter?

Is 9/11 a powerful  reminder of the ongoing threat to Western Civilization, or is it becoming relegated to a yearly front page banner like Pearl Harbor,  merely an historic event we memorialize, but soon becomes forgotten, or  another day of car sales, discounts, and picnics, akin to Labor Day, or Memorial Day?

In thinking about my annual article remembering the attack on America in 2001 (and its predecessor in 1993) and all the vulnerabilities we continue to face, especially the "9/11 amnesia" our nation seems to have acquired except when we take time to memorialize the event every year, and the insanity of this Administration's foreign (and domestic) policies that have fostered chaos in the Middle East, emboldened more enemies than we had in 2001, and turned our inner cities into the killing fields, it dawned on me what I learned from the Cold War - "control the children, control the future." I would prefer to think of it as ‘inspire the children, inspire the future,' which means teaching them - right from wrong, not everyone wins, if you want something you work for it, not take it, that how you win is as important is if you win, and that America is more than your home, it is your country - an inextricably linked enterprise between us, our values and our national heritage. Sadly we are failing badly at teaching our children, but doing swimmingly well at indoctrinating them.

"Tell me what's right, and I'll fight for it."  ~  Woodrow Wilson

While Wilson often failed to follow his own exhortation, nevertheless his instruction is worth following.

We do our young people an injustice by white-washing 9/11 and the evil perpetrators who have a left the world a legacy of murder and death that persists today. We do our young an injustice by silently supporting revisionist history that undermines love of country, instead of inspiring it. We offer children false gods and false inspiration conferring star status on people who denigrate our country (and the symbols of our nation). Fame is the new currency in society; rewarding our leaders, celebrities and athletes to sully America by denouncing the US, and apologizing for it sends a bad message to the next generation. We teach children that there is no "wrong" - that is merely being judgmental. We allow our children to be taught their country isn't a beacon of hope or a force for good.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Children have an innate desire to learn. Thankfully teaching doesn't end in the classroom. We all can be living history, and share the significance of that fateful day, what led up to it, and what needs to be done in the aftermath. America was NOT the cause of 9/11, and is in fact a greater good in the world than any nation before or likely to come after it. Our children need to know the truth, which of course is always the first casualty of war, and we are at war....it may be minimized, denied, ignored or fought badly, but we are in a war unlike anything contemporary Americans have ever faced. In a future article we will discuss what early Americans did with radical Islam, and how the past can inform the present.  

To be frank - our universities need an enema to cleanse them from their anti-free speech, pro indoctrination mentality - safe speech zones, silencing diverse opinions - the list goes on and on. These idiocies filter to pre college education. Our elementary, middle, and high schools need to teach our kids, preparing them for a complex world. And they are failing. But then, so are we! We have allowed these things to happen on our watch. If the ideal that is America, our great history and heritage, as well as 9/11 are to have any significance, if the memory of those murdered on 9/11, and for that matter 4/15, are to be honored, we need to be the change needed in contemporary education. In the short term, such change begins with talking about these events to our young people. Avoiding the topics isn't protecting their sensibilities and sensitivities; it is denying them the truth.

Clearly you and I have some work to do. Starting with ‘time to be Auntie, or Grand-pop' and tell stories that capture the heart, and imagination. Like engaging young people to "Ask me about 9/11." It is personal to us, but not to them. It wasn't their story, any more than JFK's death which wasn't personal to me, until people who lived through it conveyed the powerful effect it had, because of the times, the context within which it occurred.  With approximately 25% of our citizens too young to remember, or not even alive when 9/11 occurred, it is not personal to a significant number of Americans. It is as relatable to them as Pearl Harbor or for that matter the Alamo...assuming they are still taught such things. But the dangerous reality - they do not understand that while Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the end for the Japanese Empire that attacked us, 9/11 is still the beginning of an attack by an Islamic force that desires empire, and may very well get it - either through more high profile events, or through death by a thousand cuts - controlling the political and educational narrative, changing our culture, imposing its will on our social, military, media, and legal systems. But make no mistake about it - our children will have to fight what we refuse to defeat, and they will be ill prepared to do so unless we teach them about the significance to them that 9/11 represents.

Ask me about 9/11 - what's your story?

Ask me about 9/11, and my story... I'll try not to let my eyes well up as I picture the faces of colleagues lost, or the location on the fountain memorial where their names are etched, or the smoke I saw rising up to meet the plane as we flew over the smoldering remnants of the World Trade Center shortly after the attack.  And it was personal for other reasons - my parents and I often dined at Windows, and took our friends to visit The Towers.  Less than 3 weeks before 9/11 I brought friends from Europe to the top of the Towers. That made 9/11 personal for them, too!

Ronald Reagan was prescient when he warned we can lose democracy in a generation. There are lots of forces working to change our nation, and in a mere 7 years we have seen significant erosions in our democracy. If we are to stop these erosions, a good place to start is with the next generation.

"Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts...But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."  ~  George W. Bush, President of the United States

We are a great nation, a great people - lost perhaps, but still great. If we are to honor the past, the present, and the future which 9/11 represents, and informs, then we have a lot of work to do.... politically, and in the education arena. Starting with....9 - 11 Fifteen years later, it is time to stop letting future generations learn the wrong lesson. 

9/11, fifteen years later...To those we lost, may their memory be a blessing. And may God comfort those who mourn, and bless this great nation, and all who defend her.

 Comments have been disabled for this article

Dr. Robin McFee, MPH, FACPM, FAACT, is a physician, and clinical toxicologist. As medical director of Threat Science - and nationally recognized expert in WMD preparedness, she consults with government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is the former director of the Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness (CB PREP) and bioweapons - WMD adviser to the Domestic Security Task Force, the former chair of the Global Terrorism Council of ASIS International, and a member of the US Counterterrorism Advisory Team. She has coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press    


FSM Archives

10 year FSM Anniversary