The al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, are known by their date.
This is unusual. Other major events, though we might recall their dates, aren’t named by their dates. We know that the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, but we don’t call it the “December 7” attack. We don’t refer to the Normandy landing on D-Day as the “June 6 landing.”
Most events are known by their place—the Northridge earthquake, the Chernobyl disaster, the Battle of Bull Run. Those affecting ships and planes are known by their names or flight numbers—the Titanic disaster, Pan-Am Flight 103, the USS Cole attack, TWA Flight 800. But this event affected too many places . . . and too many planes. We know the places and flight numbers too, but they’re just parts of something bigger and more horrible.
The government now officially refers to the annual September 11 commemoration as “Patriot Day,” but nobody calls it that. We call it “September 11,” or just “nine-eleven.”
A child born on September 11, 2001, can go to a bar today and buy a drink. They now how have the full privileges of legal adulthood. That’s hard to believe. The events of that day are still fresh in the minds of those who lived through it, and yet it was, somehow, twenty-one years ago. It’s one of those things where everybody who was alive when it happened remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing.
That day was the defining moment of a generation. It touched all of us.
On September 12, I drove down to the Pentagon. I had to see it for myself. I parked with hundreds of other gawkers somewhere a little ways away and walked to a position with a clear view . . . a spot in the interchange between Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard. The building was still burning.
A few days later, I went back to my part-time job with a federal contractor at IRS headquarters in downtown Washington, DC. I knew that the building was built in roughly the same era as the Pentagon, and I remember walking down one of the corridors of the building and imagining what it must have been like in a similar corridor in the Pentagon as flight 77 impacted the building.
I thought, “It could have been me.” The people who died that day were regular people living regular lives in regular buildings, just like I was. They had done nothing wrong. They were innocent victims of hateful people who adhered to a hateful ideology. This is why it’s called terrorism; not only does it hurt and kill innocent people, but it scares the daylights out of everybody else too. It makes everybody feel like they might be next.
September 11 was my generation’s “date which will live in infamy.” Never forget.