A Threat to Never Forget: Sept. 11 and America’s Vengeful Memory

Never Forget by 616

Flickr Copyright by Ms Sara Kelly 

Today, we will be asked to never forget.

We will be asked to revive the trauma and fear many of us experienced during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

We will be asked to relive that day, with loops of explosions, tumbling towers, rubble and rescue workers.

We will be reminded never to forget.

We will be reminded that this is our duty as Americans.

Never forget.

Never again.

There is a threat implied in refusing to forget. It is a threat against others, a reminder that our collective memory is as deep as our desire for vengeance. We refuse to forget with war, drones, and torture. We refuse to forget with the erosion of civil liberties. We refuse to forget by reminding the entire world that retaliation — not freedom — is our nation’s most treasured value.

Never forgetting is also a threat against ourselves, for it reminds us that no matter what happens we will never be allowed to forget.

We will be forced to relive it by our culture. We will be forced again to be mourners of the macabre. We will be forced watch it, again and again and again.

Until we like it.

Until we remember that we shouldn’t forget.

We will be asked never to forget: to take the blade’s edge to our bodies until we feel the pain fresh again. Because, unlike that day 12 years ago, the pain of never forgetting is one we control. One we choose. It is a pain that gives us release from anxiety and disorientation. It is a pain we need.

Never forgetting, as a country, turns us into a nation of cutters.

But not today. And not for me.

Today, I choose instead to forget.

Defiantly.

It has been 12 years. I have gotten married, had children, been ordained. I have moved. I have been wounded in more ways than I can count in those intervening years. And I’m sure I have done some wounding, too.

So, I will not live today in the past.

For some, today brings the grief and pain of dead loved ones. It will be a genuine day of remembrance and not forgetting for many of them. I refuse to grieve for a day while my life has remained largely unchanged. It cheapens the grief of those who cannot forget because their mother, son, father, spouse, or sister died that day.

I refuse to grieve for something I saw on television but never touched personally.

And as a nation, we should refuse, too.

One day should not define us. So move on and claim this tragic day for the normal and the mundane: For grocery shopping, floor mopping, taking out the trash, and changing the oil.

Because each day has enough trouble of its own, and I don’t need to borrow any more trouble from the past.

For more than a decade, we have understood ourselves as a nation under attack, as a wounded nation who needs to protect itself. In doing so, we have attacked, unjustly, and more viciously than we were attacked; and, we have killed exponentially more innocents with greater indifference than our attackers ever did.

At some point, we ceased to be the wounded, the attacked.

We became the aggressors.

And we still are.

May we never forget that.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • http://www.fivedills.com Greg Dill

    Very well said. And, my thoughts exactly too.

  • Jim Olson

    Amen.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    there is room to grieve the lost–here and there–and to work for peace. choosing to honor the dead is not an endorsement of the war machine and its propaganda. we will grieve and remember differently, and that’s ok.

  • kesmarn

    A very interesting, provocative take. I’ve also thought many of these same thoughts. I do believe we can take the time to grieve today with those who did lose loved ones. Just because we didn’t experience the 9/11 attacks personally doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of empathy. (And I don’t really think you’re implying otherwise.) But remembering in anger bothers me — as it clearly does you too. One of the reasons the Sunni/Shi’ite split in Islam is so tragic is that it’s all about never forgetting. Ever. Which means it will never end. It’s as though every U.S. citizen would harbor undying hostility toward every citizen of Germany or Japan indefinitely. We’d never get past anything. As you say, a certain amount of forgetting — in the right sense — is a good thing. We can light a candle of remembrance without holding our hand in the flame.

    • RockyMissouri

      We all love our martyrs…. Whatever nation ….whatever culture we may be…we honor, and dishonor them in so many ways. And then they are forgotten… Until we need to use them again… How about we honor their memories in a better way…? To make the world a better place by learning about our neighbors.. We already have the tools to do it. It begins with us.

      • kesmarn

        Could not agree more, Rocky.

  • hillmad

    Thank you. I also believe that “never forgetting” can be used a crutch or an excuse for current bad behavior and does nothing to honor the memory of those who died.

    Although the casualties of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Fight 93 were technically noncombatants, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address words come back to me at this time:

    It is for us the living, rather . . . to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    Indeed, these dead shall not have died in vain if we as a people can resolve to learn from, rather than “not forget,” the past. Peace.

    • RockyMissouri

      I think so many are into turning a loss into how they can benefit from it…instead of LEARNING how NOT to REPEAT IT…

  • tom

    You wrote’ We refuse to forget by reminding the entire world that retaliation — not freedom — is our nation’s most treasured value.” Retaliation was not the word used by our nations leaders, “Justice” was. Our slogan is “Freedom and Justice for all” or did you want to forget that also. And how many times has your families lives come in harm’s way where you did not seek justice, yet choose to forget. In my humble opinion, your choice to forget about our citizens that lost their lives to terroristic acts, to be simply forgotten because you see no value in it is….Well, a different opinion than mine. Long live you, while forgetting those that died (anybody that died to terroristic acts) to help keep you FREE.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      How did the deaths in the World Trade Centers keep me or any American free?

      • Mike

        Very simply this: by remembering that there was a terrorist attack on the facility that houses thousands of people allows us to remain vigilant to those who wish to violently take away the freedoms which you so enjoy. Continued terrorism will eventually lead to people being afraid to be on the streets (see any Chicago neighborhood) which in turn becomes un intended captivity. At least by remembering we can watch for those that wish to harm others in the name of hate.

      • billwald

        No, 911 has enabled the US government to take away our freedoms. It has been government policy since the end of WW2 that Americans must always be afraid of something. Doesn’t matter what.

        Osama should be awarded a peace prize for inventing the cheapest, shortest, and winning most effective world war ever attempted.

  • Linda

    A friend of mine was driving his 12 year old daughter to school and was explaining what happened 12 years ago today, and it hit him that there is a whole generation that was not alive on September 11, 2001.

    THEY are why we must never forget.

    • RockyMissouri

      And to foster respect for ALL PEOPLE.. ALL RELIGIONS…even if you aren’t a religious person… We should still respect others.

    • rosross

      By all means never forget as long as you teach them to also never forget the tens of millions killed in American waged wars over the past half century.

  • Stuart Blessman

    Things Christians should probably never say: Never forget. Especially if it’s followed with “never forgive”.

    • RockyMissouri

      How about ‘never forget, and ALWAYS FORGIVE.’…? Several years ago, some people asked some of the survivors of Hiroshima if they hated Americans.. To the great shock of the interviewers, the survivors said , No..! They blamed their PARENTS, for being the ones responsible for putting them in that position in the first place.

  • Marian Ronan

    On September 11 of each year I am reminded of visiting a village in northern France. A plaque on the wall of the train station said “In 1915 the Germans destroyed this train station and in 1919 the citizens rebuilt it. In 1940, the Germans destroyed this train station and in 1947 the citizens rebuilt it.” It did not strike me as particularly vengeful–just matter of fact. Sometimes I think one of the big problems with the U.S. is that we have managed to avoid much of the horrific destruction that citizens of other parts of the world have had thrust upon them time and time again. We are outraged that such a thing as 9/11 ever should have happened to us, but the sad truth is, human beings make war on one another.

    • Russ Hale

      Kudos to the French for rebuilding from the world wars I & II. However, those signs you saw on your visit would have been in German and those people would be speaking German. They would have rebuilt with Marks instead of Francs after those wars had the US not been willing to leave its own shores and fight in Europe. Was that decision a wise one for us? Of course. But it was a god-send for them. We have “managed” to fight wars in other places on purpose. I hope it continues.
      Hopefully on September 11, every American will acknowledge there are people in the world who perpetrate evil and must be watched and contained. Those who liken the US to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden are dangerous in their ignorance and should not reproduce.

      • Marian Ronan

        Russ, let’s put aside for the moment the fact that many historians believe that the Russians won WWII, at least in Europe. Instead, let’s focus on the differences between 9/11 and that war. From almost all angles, World War II was a just war. You cannot say this for the vengeful U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which many, many people are still suffering. And 9/11 was an attack by a group of terrorists, not by another nation. My use of the example of the train station in northern France was intended to illustrate that there are other possible responses to violence, even multiple instances of violence, than “never forgetting,” as David argues so eloquently in his post.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        This commenter has been blacklisted, not for the above comment, but for his second comment (which I deleted), which engages in inciting, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and crass engagement with other users. I welcome disagreement, but insist our level of engagement must be respectful. Also, insulting other commenters, based on gender, is not allowed.

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    That’s brilliant.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. We’ve done a lot of foolish things and sacrificed much that should not have been lost, much waste of lives and material.

    But really? You think militant, anti-Western Islam is no real threat, or no longer so?

    And you’ve got some real gems in here, Mr. Henson: “I refuse to grieve for a day while my life has remained largely unchanged. It cheapens the grief of those who cannot forget because their mother, son, father, spouse, or sister died that day. I refuse to grieve for something I saw on television but never touched personally.”

    I mean, talk about solidarity. There is something ugly and small in a man who has sympathy with faraway people from a different land and culture than with his own countrymen, who are, after all, his more immediate neighbors and more likely his kin.

    I don’t know a soul who died on September 11, and I disavow much of what our government has done since then “to keep America safe.” But God help me if I can’t find sympathy with those I know who did lose someone.

    “Never forgetting, as a country, turns us into a nation of cutters.” So you’ll not mock the wounds of people who died in 9/11 by invoking their memory, but you’ll mock people whose self-hatred is so intense that it leads to self-mutilation? Or did you mean “cutting other people,” which is of course arguably true?

    You know, rather than forgetting, we might try surrendering our wounds to Christ. And let him bring us healing. Rather than learning to live and let live, we might answer the Gospel call to follow Jesus and to bring others to Him, so we can live in peace, in His holy Name.

    It’s always telling to me how little progressive “Christians” mention Christ or God or Jesus in their writings around here. You didn’t mention Him even once.

    • Anonymous

      “There is something ugly and small in a man who has sympathy with faraway people from a different land and culture than with his own countrymen, who are, after all, his more immediate neighbors and more likely his kin.”

      It may be easier because those faraway people are built on vague conceptions, not concrete reality. The author can’t experience the warts, the faults, and the misdeeds of those faraway people the way he can the neighbor next door.

      • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

        Just so. Easy to trash Amuricans. Also cheap and catty.

  • Amy

    This is a naive and insensitive post.

  • Robert Santa Maria

    You, sir, are a self-indulgent and moronic ass.

    If you are truly ordained, as you have stated, you are also a poor representative of whatever faith had the audacity to place such as you in their roster of those who would serve God and herd his sheep.

    Many are those who, today, were touched by this tragedy. Many are those, today, who were children when this occurred, and have still felt the repercussions of that falling towers, and the crumbling walls of the Pentagon.

    I understand your viewpoint, and how you are presenting this.

    It is a spiteful, insensitive and no where resembling the succor or comfort of Christ.

    Might I suggest you look to your confessor, mentor or whomever sponsored your ordaining and tell him you still have some learning to do.

    May Christ forgive you.

    • Mike Mayer

      I believe that Christ did have something to say about how to respond when you are the victim of an attack. Matthew 5:38-39. I see no reason His words should not apply to us as a nation as well.

  • Suzanne Spiers

    I imagine that this day will be experienced by all affected people in unique ways. For some who lost loved ones on that day, I can imagine that they will feel and release more of the grief and loss that was begun on that day 12 years ago. I think that we all have to live in the present and make the most of every precious moment granted to us. May what happened on that black day several years ago, serve as a reminder to let our loved ones know that we love them every day. May what happened on that day back then, serve to reveal how important it is to value the beauty there is to experience in life. May what happened on that day on 9/11 serve to remind us why it is so important to nurture peace in each of our hearts, so that we contribute individually to world peace. Peace always begins with the individual heart and individual actions towards others.

  • rosross

    Well said. There is every chance that 9/11 was an inside job but one thing is certain, the Iraqis hd nothing to do with it and yet around a million Iraqis are now dead thanks to the US military, some 8million maimed or injured and some 10million refugees It is a gross travesty and suggests Americans think that they are more important than anyone else and their dead need to be avenged in the hundreds of thousands. Disgraceful and shameful.

  • rosross

    The irony of course is that 30,000 Americans die every year because of guns but that is fine – 3,000 dead in a bombing and that isn’t. Perspective please.

  • RockyMissouri

    We had the compassion of so many on that terrible day….. And then we took the wrong fork in the road, so to speak.

  • leo holzer

    I think Sept. 11 will always be a day to remember … if only for the brief moment most Americans, as well as the global community, was united in our grief and desire to expand the idea that it really is a small world after all. I will also remember and honor those who showed the best we are as humans, the firefighters, the passengers aboard United Flight 93 — everyone at the Pentagon, the New York World Trade Center or aboard those three planes who courageously helped comfort one another or unselfishly save others with little regard for their own lives. Race, gender and sexual orientation played no role in the heroics.

  • Realtorky

    Has it ever occurred to you that the “never forget” is for those we lost and for the heroes that tried to save them. It just shows your way of thinking, not necessarily the general consensus. Personally, when I hear 9/11 my thoughts go to those lost and those that lost loved ones. Maybe rather than forget perhaps we should remember the important parts.

  • someoneoutthere

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=555503304499033&set=vb.236486913157711&type=3&theater

    I agree that we should not continuously seek vengeance, but I don’t think my tears cheapen theirs…

  • Someone Else

    9.11.2001 was the worst day in my life. A pastor denied my daughter a baptism, at the exact moment the second plane hit the second World Trade Center building. And I had grown up in New York, no doubt I had friends, or friends of friends, who died on 9.11. My sence of common decency in the world fell apart at that moment.

    As it turned out, according to medical records, the pastor had much more sinister motives for his deplorable behavior than I realized at that time. But my point is, the Christians were not innocent, at the point of attack. It’s possible the Muslims were motivated by God on 9.11.2001. Although, I do not believe they were blameless either.

    As to the person who recommended a “reality check” as to why God may have been miffed with Americans, due to 30,000 gun deaths. I will point out also that there are over 100,000 who die a year, due to” medical mistakes” and / or adverse effects to drugs a year – medical mistakes are now at least the third leading cause of death in the US.

    And there is a “Wall of Silence” problem within the US medical community that grotesquely outshadows the 3000 deaths of 9.11.2001. US doctors kill 3000 patients every two days with their medical mistakes and bad drugs.

    Was 9.11.2001 actually a religious war, a “jihad”? I do not know. But those currently “in charge” in the US, are not blameless. We all must work together to bring about common decency on this planet. And worshiping money only, is not the answer.

  • Sandra Willow Lang

    While we remember 9/ 11 / 01 perhaps we can take some time to remember 9 / 11 / 73 as well when the democratically elected government of Chile was overthrown with the assistance of the US government and thousands were arrested, tortured, disappeared and murdered!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      Well said.

  • Y. A. Warren

    THANK YOU! This needs to be read and said so many times, especially in a nation that has the conceit to call itself “Christian” while living for punishing people.

  • Y. A. Warren

    The greatest cheapening of the losses of 9/11 was the payments to our fellow citizens to keep them from suing us, the taxpayers (government), for crimes committed against all of us. And then, we were told that we should all go shopping to strengthen our economy. It still makes my stomach churn to think of the opportunities for bonding all of us, not only the brave rescue professionals, in prayer and sacrifice that were lost on that fateful day and the years following it. We wage war to feed greed. People are simply pawns in the great maw of corporate America.

  • mindi

    Shame on you.

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