Remembering 9/11

I guess the biggest injustice we and the future generation can do against those who perished in this tragedy is to forget about and pay very little attention to it as years pass by.

I am not American. I have never set foot in the United States and don’t really have any major connection the country aside from knowing that the Americans were our former colonial masters. Filipinos are also quite Americanised and very much in tune to their society because of TV and Hollywood. But other than having a couple of American friends and wanting to see New York someday, I don’t really have a major emotional investment in the country.

However, I do remember where I was on September 11, 2001 when news broke out that a plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Followed by another plane. Then news broke out that there’s yet another one that crashed into the Pentagon followed by the last plane that crashed in field in Pennsylvania.

It took a while for everyone to connect the dots. Everyone was blinded. Later on, we all found out that the 4 commercial planes were hijacked and intentionally crashed as a terror attack on the US and the last one was actually intended for the Capitol or the White House but it crashed into a field after the passengers fought the hijackers.

I remember hearing the news late at around 10 in the evening, Manila time. I was 12 years old and about to go to bed. We were watching the news and scenes from New York, one of my dream cities to visit, showed chaos and burning towers. Journalists were reporting from the streets and talking to people covered in soot and blood, running away from the devastation.

Photo from State of the Nation. An image that will forever haunt the people who were watching the news on September 11, 2001.

I was crying because I was scared and I felt so much pity for the people who were running, not knowing where to go and because I had some sort of inkling that there were thousand of people who might die – those were offices after all. I was right. Later on, it was reported that over 3000 people perished in the tragedy. The people who initiated the attack felt that they won. But at that time, I believed otherwise.

I went to bed after my mom pulled the plug on the telly but I wasn’t able to sleep right. I turned the TV on again as soon as the sun started peeking through my window and with my glasses on, I watched what happened next. Smoke, rubble, and people trying to dig out survivors from the fallen towers. Footage from the night before of firemen carrying injured people out of the burning Pentagon.

I remember seeing this photo everywhere in 2001. Taken during then-US President George W. Bush’s reading of a story book to school children and one of his people comes up to him to tell him the news that a plane hit one of the towers. Photo from Life Magazine.

I went to school upset and those scenes never left my mind. They scared me and made me care about what was happening in another part of the world that’s physically far from me but at that moment, I felt so close to it. I remember running to the grade school library during lunch and recess to ask my grade school librarian, Mrs Guevarra, to let me use her television. And together, we watched more cable news. She asked me: “So you still want to become a journalist after seeing that? It’s so dangerous what they’re doing!” and I told her that that’s precisely why I want to become one I want to be the one telling people what was happening and why. I want to know first.

While there were photos showing blood and gore, I think what got to me most were the simpler photos that said so much without being too loud. Photo from the New York Times.

For days, I found myself crying in front of the television. No, I didn’t know those people but I knew they did not deserve to die like that. I was hearing excerpts of last phone calls, seeing videos of people falling from the buildings, there were photos of dead people with loved ones crying over them splashed on broadsheets.

Their deaths were not in vain, however. In the next days and months the world saw a people united more than ever, telling their government that they want justice. I don’t know what Osama Bin Laden was thinking at that time but if it were me, I would have felt that I’ve woken an angry dragon up.

What’s more touching are the firemen, the police, and the volunteers that didn’t leave ground zero until all survivors were pulled out of the rubble. Photo from NBC News.

Movies were made, documentaries were filmed, features on news broadcasts and tributes were aired. We don’t hear about 9/11 as much nowadays. It’s been over a decade after all. But to me, that was one of the biggest turning points in modern history and one of the events in my late childhood that I will always remember. (Further Reading: Time Magazine’s If You Want to Humble an Empire)

Later on, in Journ school, I was discussing 9/11 to my Sociology professor. We were having a healthy debate on what drives people to commit such atrocities. The discussion went back to ideals, to a bit of history. From the US’ involvement in the wars in the Middle East, to lifestyle, to oil, conflicting ideals. Which made me realise that it’s not something you can just learn in a day. It’s a very complex matter which a lot of people tried to simplify in the past couple of years but still, it remains to be a tangled, complicated issue that only saddens me more as the issue is directly related to conflict in different parts of the world where men, women, and children are dying. I am strongly against the death of innocents and I believe we no longer live in a world where it’s always ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But alas, we don’t live in a perfect world. (Further reading: Osama Bin Laden’s Letter to the American People)

The biggest injustice will be to forget the lessons we learned. Photo from CBS New York.

My husband and I also discuss the matters of the Middle East over dinner (and sometimes goes all the way to before going to sleep) every now and then and though we’ve been at it for ages, I somehow feel that there is still so much more to learn and understand. Sometimes we end up with opposing personal views on certain matters (Why is it like this? What should be done for it to be okay? How will peace be achieved?) but still, there are facts to guide us. ‘The conflict brought about by differences, the changing worlds, and inevitable coexistence’ as I like to call it in my head.

While conspiracy reports remain, Osama Bin Laden was reported to have been killed in a US special operation in 2011. America rejoiced but I guess they’ve already learned from the past. They knew it wasn’t over and they knew that it’s not just Bin Laden who disagrees with their policies. There are more groups, more leaders.

When will it end? Photo from NBC News.

Today, some countries in the Middle East are still locked internal conflict. There’s Syria, there’s Israel and Palestine, and then there’s the ISIS in Iraq. News reports say that difference in ideals, clashing beliefs, and political interests are playing a major role in the matter. Two American journalists were beheaded by ISIS, a group that has been reported to be doing ethnic and religious cleansing in the region, as a message to the US ‘to stop meddling’ in the Middle East. And just a couple of hours ago, US President Barack Obama addressed his people and announced a major expansion in their military campaign against the group, saying: “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Sometimes, you start to wonder: Will it ever end? Thirteen years from now, will we remember the people that were reportedly killed by ISIS and the historical monuments as well as places of worship of other religions that were reportedly destroyed by the group? There won’t be anniversary for the deaths of the Shiite Muslims, the Yazidis, and other ethnic groups who chose not to convert even at gunpoint.

I always talk about how remembering the past makes sure that you learn from your mistakes. And once this is all over, I can only hope that events will be remembered so that the future generations, despite differences in race, religion, and lifestyle, won’t have to resort to killing each other.

And while the New York skyline was forever changed by the tragedy of 2001 and there are no more plans of building new towers in ground zero as it has been turned into a memorial. I like how the Americans made sure that their future generations and everyone else in the world will never forget. Photo by Ryan D. Budhu, Happeningmag.

Nowadays, the New York skyline looks so different and I guess people have gotten used to not seeing the towers anymore. However, it is impossible for New Yorkers to ever forget September 11, 2001. The ‘Tribute in Light’ shines all night every September 11 since 2002. In 2008, the US announced that they will stop the tribute as an end to their nation’s mourning but it went on after and they said that it should continue well up to the tragedy’s tenth anniversary – 2011. However, it’s already 2014 and the Tribute in Light is still repeated yearly to commemorate what happened. I don’t think the US is still mourning the 3,000 people that died that day. I personally don’t agree with people who say that the tribute should be stopped so that they can move on. I think it’s nice to remember. To pause for a while and think about what happened. To examine ourselves how far we’ve come from that day when we heard the news that shook the entire world. And to reflect on how the conflict the brought about the death of thousands of lives in the West and the Middle East can finally be solved.

You wouldn’t want to lose your home or your livelihood, would you? And you wouldn’t want to leave your children orphaned. Right? Photo from Galleryhip.

But I’m no expert on the matter and maybe people who know better will want to shoot me for this. After all, I’m just a regular girl from Asia who’s dabbled in journalism and loves to watch the news. And while I don’t have a personal stake on the matter, I do care.  I am not Muslim nor American. I admit that sometimes, it’s hard not to pick a side. Especially when you see children dying and people losing their homes and livelihood due to conflict. Everyone deserves a place to call their home where they can practice their own religion and I do care about people even though they are different from me. I have learned to respect their own beliefs and the way they live even if I know if I were in their position, it would not work for me. I know that I am anti violence and I always will be. I know conflict and wars might be seen as an effective tool for certain people to get what they want. But at the end of the day, we all lose when the blood of our brothers and sisters (no matter what their race or religion is) is spilled, when children are orphaned, and when people are stripped of their homes and livelihood. We win with peace that’s achieved through peace. It might be slow, yes. But at least we’ll all sleep a little better at night, don’t you think?

More yapping later.

Peace and love,

Carol

PS. The views and comments in this post do not represent the views of the Philippine government or that of my husband’s. This is purely personal.

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