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Editorial: Students should remember, honor 9/11

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Editorial: Students should remember, honor 9/11

Visitors gather around the National September 11 Memorial in July in New York City. The memorial features two twin reflective pools that stand where the World Trade Center's Towers once did.

Visitors gather around the National September 11 Memorial in July in New York City. The memorial features two twin reflective pools that stand where the World Trade Center's Towers once did.

Declan Harty

Visitors gather around the National September 11 Memorial in July in New York City. The memorial features two twin reflective pools that stand where the World Trade Center's Towers once did.

Declan Harty

Declan Harty

Visitors gather around the National September 11 Memorial in July in New York City. The memorial features two twin reflective pools that stand where the World Trade Center's Towers once did.

Fifteen years ago, the United States came to a standstill during the four terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. It was an unprecedented tragedy that changed the world, and most college students have internalized the event as a confusing day of sadness and fragmented memories.

Most of us share similar memories of parents crying and staring at something we didn’t understand on TV, or odd and somber announcements at school. Anyone younger than 19 or 20 years old would have been too young to form lasting memories — incoming freshmen were only around three years old. High school freshmen were born into the War on Terror and Department of Homeland Security.

Even twenty-somethings likely didn’t understand the gravity of the attacks or why they happened. International terrorism is a tough thing to explain to a child, so most of us grew up slowly learning the details of that Tuesday morning.

Now, it seems like less and less is done in memory of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks. Sunday will be a day of remembrance, but there are some meaningful things you can do to honor the day.

On campus, the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education will be hosting the grand opening of the Star-Miller Children’s Library, named after Spc. Lucas “Star” Starcevich and Spc. Seth Allen Miller, who were killed fighting the War on Terror.

Their mothers created the library as a place where veteran families can read and be comforted while they receive support services. The library includes the soldiers’ favorite books.

The 9/11 Memorial offers a 360 degree view of the memorial pools built around the perimeter of where the North and South towers once stood. The tour is through Google Maps, and is detailed enough that you can zoom in on the names engraved around the pools, a list of all the passengers aboard the four flights.

The tour offers a sense of perspective for those who haven’t been to New York and seen how central the towers were. It also shows how the memorial and One World Trade Center – which still hasn’t found tenants for its highest floors – were built from literal ruin.

For more immediate context, there are plenty of newspaper archives showing how different publications handled coverage. Though it may sound biased coming from an editorial board, articles from Sept. 12 have some of the most detailed coverage, encapsulating the fear and uncertainty around the nation.

The Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 12 paper is available to view as a PDF online. Their headline “Terrorists destroy World Trade Center, hit Pentagon in raid with hijacked jets” is written in all caps and spans the entirety of the front page. A headline that large had only been used two other times in the Journal’s history — for Pearl Harbor and the Persian Gulf War.

More importantly, the Wall Street Journal’s offices were located at the World Financial Center across the street from the towers. As the offices were evacuated, journalists stayed in Lower Manhattan, covering the disaster unfolding around them.

Wednesday’s paper, put together in satellite offices and by reporters seeking refuge uptown, won the Journal the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.

One story from that front page is especially jarring. “Eye of the storm: One journey through desperation and chaos” is a first-person account from staff writer John Bussey, who details watching the towers fall and his evacuation from the newsroom into the chaotic streets.

Esquire’s “Falling Man” by Tom Junod became notable for highlighting one of the most uncomfortable, controversial pictures taken after the towers began to burn: victims jumping from upper floors to escape the smoke and fire inside.

In subsequent publications, these pictures were often censored to protect the dignity of the deceased. Junod details the mixed opinions about coverage in the days and years after.

None of the articles published immediately after 9/11 are going to be light. All of them are graphic, and no number of poetic adjectives can mask the reality of what is being described.

After the memorial was built, journalists still cover the long-lasting effects of the attacks.

Steve Kendall, Buzzfeed News features director, wrote a first-person article about visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Kendall’s sister was one of the victims, and he was invited to the museum before it opened because of his family connection. His story, “The worst day of my life is now New York’s hottest tourist attraction,” is critical of how the museum handles the memory of victims, framing it as exploitative and mostly uncomfortable.  

In terms of memorializing the attacks, one of the most important things to do is to be respectful. In some ways, it seems like 9/11 has been so internalized by younger generations that it’s become something edgy to reference, like drawing a swastika on a school desk.

After growing up with the tragedy, fallout and conspiracy theories, it can be surprisingly easy to forget the severity and speed of everything that happened that day.

Amid the recent controversy of Colin Kaepernick supposedly not respecting the nation by kneeling during the national anthem, more common issues of national disrespect are swept under the rug.

Over the summer, reports of people wading in the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. caught media attention for being disrespectful and inappropriate. A girl was criticized two years ago for posting a selfie taken outside of Auschwitz. Yet, when visiting the 9/11 memorial, it’s commonplace to see people taking selfies and group shots outside of the pools.

Personal photography is technically allowed, but is it really that important to prove you were there? Though the memorial is surrounded by common tourist destinations, with Statue of Liberty tours and double-decker tour buses running on the surrounding streets, the pools themselves are peaceful. The ground is, in many ways, a cemetery.

There’s no need for photography, and there’s certainly no need to be flippant about 9/11. Whether it’s playing Pokemon Go in memorials and museums or trying to joke about the attacks, it’s uncalled for.

Though the area has been rebuilt, and the nation’s wound is no longer fresh, the attacks left a scar in our nation’s history. As the last generation to have actual memories of 9/11, we should take time to learn more about what shaped those memories.

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