Growing up in the early 2000s in the New York metropolitan area meant Sept. 11 was a day of mourning each year. It was a day when our parents and siblings told us what they saw with their own eyes. And each year the stories came of chaos on a scale no one in America had ever witnessed before.
My family lived in Sussex, New Jersey, a county where many residents commute into Manhattan for work each morning. My parents were two such people. My mother, working for an insurance agency, and my father, working construction in the heart of the city, were only a few miles from the World Trade Center when the towers went down.
Every year my mother recounts the horrors of hearing her co-worker’s scream knowing her son was in the south tower. She, like many families of the nearly 3,000 people who perished in the attacks, watched without any power to change their circumstances as their loved ones were killed. My father watched countless men and women plummet, choosing in fear to jump from the skyscrapers than collapse with them. Smoke filled the streets and sirens rang through the city as first responders rushed to save as many as possible.
Yet still when the day was done, most had lost someone. I’ve been to the Sept. 11 memorial with parents, with churches and on school trips on multiple occasions. The pain of the attacks runs deep in the Northeast but even there, there seems to be a growing disconnect to the events of 9/11.
In 2022, 21 years after the terrorist attacks, one in every four Americans was born after 9/11 with that number inevitably set to grow higher and higher. Without a personal connection to the events, the younger generation has become desaturated and falsely equivocated.
Debate has always been a part of the conversation on Sept. 11, 2001. Whether it be in response to the war in Afghanistan or the passing of the Patriot Act and its subsequent war on terror. In recent years though, coinciding with the start of adulthood for many of Gen Z and the Covid-19 Pandemic shutting down the world, the debate has changed.
Those born after the attacks have grown into adults without memory of the day and have recently lived through their own two-year long traumatic event that will go down in history. While the pandemic has changed the American way of life possibly forever, it must not be understated that 9/11 had the same consequences.
Some would claim the pandemic was more devastating in losses or that one day couldn’t have been as scary as two years. Both statements are completely false. If calculated correctly, including all who perished on 9/11, all who were killed in the wars that followed and the victims of Islamophobic attacks, the lives lost as a result of 9/11 grows exponentially and is still growing 21 years later. As for how scary that day was, bring yourself back to the scene I described above. Any New Yorker will say that it was the scariest day of their lives with the rate of PTSD being four-times higher in those that were in the city that day than the general US population.
The ramifications of a single day's events are unlike many others in US history. The lives that were lost and the people affected in the tragedies that occured have felt the heartache and pain for years. But there is no doubt in my mind that 21st century America would look unimaginably different were it not for the attacks on 9/11, and something as serious as that deserves the depth and reflection that it is owed.