“Never forget.” That’s a message we heard repeatedly last week on social media — and even anti-social media — around the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
For someone my age, forgetting that terrible day is impossible, at least until I get to the age where I’ve forgotten most things.
I still have memories of going to work at the Roundhouse that morning, where then-Gov. Gary Johnson held a news conference assuring all us reporters that New Mexico didn’t appear to be in any danger of being attacked. Then, right after the news conference was over, I remember the building had to be evacuated because some sick jerk had called in a bomb threat.
I remember when Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle sang a stirring version of the Lord’s Prayer in his beautiful baritone on the Senate floor. (The Legislature was in Santa Fe that week for a special session.)
I remember my son, then 9 years old, calling just to talk about what had happened and what I thought might be in store for the country. I remember my daughter, who then was in college, calling just because it seemed like a good idea to be in contact with family on such an unsettling day.
No, I don’t think that this country will be forgetting Sept. 11 anytime soon.
What I do worry about is people forgetting what it was like before that gruesome day. The fact that people who were babies on 9/11 now are old enough to vote means that practically an entire generation has grown up under the shadow of those terrible attacks.
They don’t know about an era in the mists of time in which you didn’t have to take off your shoes at the airport. A strange and distant world in which, if your loved one was taking a flight, you could walk right up to the gate with her and kiss her goodbye.
Those of this new generation who are old enough to drive have never known of a time in which the worst thing about getting a driver’s license was learning how to parallel park, a time where getting that license didn’t require massive documentation and often two or three trips to the Motor Vehicles Division.
To be fair, air travel and the MVD always have had problems, even before 9/11 made them worse. But we’ve also lost something else since that September morning.
One of the classic scenes out of Washington, D.C., that day was when members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, sang “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.
Yeah, it was corny — maybe one step up from “Kumbaya” — and none of them could sing like Stu Ingle — but it was an important statement of national unity.
But that mood of unity quickly evaporated. By election season the next year — and the lead-up to the disastrous, unnecessary war in Iraq — partisans again were at each others’ throats. Though the country “sold out of flagpoles” (to riff off an old Johnny Cash song) right after the towers fell, those flagpoles soon became weapons use to beat each other over the head.
There were TV ads in Georgia showing U.S. Sen. Max Cleland — a disabled veteran who lost three limbs from wounds he suffered while serving in Vietnam — morphing into Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Everywhere was fear of terrorists, distrust of Muslims and hatred of fellow Americans who looked different than you and had ideas different from you. This wasn’t all the fault of Sept. 11. The partisan divide and the “politics of personal destruction” were in play long before those Saudis hijacked those planes. But after that day, it quickly became much worse.
Frequently, I flash back to the day before Sept. 11, 2001.
I’ll never forget that day. I was in Albuquerque covering a debate about marijuana between Gov. Johnson and Asa Hutchinson, who was head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. It was a fun event with both sides out in force cheering their side (but not booing the other). A little rowdy but respectful. I left the auditorium thinking how good it was that a discussion of public policy could draw a good crowd and provide a good time for everyone involved.
So yes, let’s never forget Sept. 11. But also, try not to forget Sept. 10.