Each year, we are getting closer to the time where incoming college students will have no personal memories of the 9/11 attacks. This will make admonitions to “never forget” less important than the lessons they are ultimately taught about the attacks, their causes, and their consequences. Below is a brainstorm about what I will teach future students about 9/11/2001:
I will teach about the origins and ideology of al Qaeda, their pre-9/11 attacks, intelligence signal-to-noise ratios, PDBs, the difference between Sunni and Shi’a, and what life was like in the U.S. before the new era.
I will teach about the bravery and sacrifice of first responders and ordinary people, why Pennsylvania has another battlefield, and how for a brief moment we weren’t Republicans and Democrats.
I will explain how Bush gave us hope in the rubble, then an Axis of Evil, then Iraq, and why Iraq gave us Obama instead of Clinton. I will teach about Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, tax cuts, debt, and why they will pay for a war they didn’t know.
I will talk about deaths, lost limbs, and Traumatic Brain Injury, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, that we tortured people, and that it wasn’t okay. I will talk about GITMO, warrantless wiretapping, violence against minorities who “looked Muslim,” and why we take our shoes off at the airport.
I will tell about the real 1% and 99%, the 1% that defends us and the 99% that was told to go shopping, about my brothers and sisters who left their loved ones and went to war, how every one of them gave something, and how some of them gave everything. I will talk about drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and PTSD.
I will say that we aren’t alone, that there are others in Bali, London, Madrid, Dar es Salaam, Baghdad, Mosul, and Nairobi who understand.
I will teach about the Loya Jirga, Karzai, heroin, corruption, Tora Bora, Petraeus, and McChrystal. And I will insist that Pat Tillman is a hero, even though we were lied to. I will tell my students that the Nobel Peace Prize winner has a kill list, and that our kill list has Americans on it.
I will ask them to do better next time and to pray that there isn’t one.