SID SALTER: Memories of 9/11 today become like Pearl Harbor yesterday

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – For my father, the reliable lecture designed to teach his children to be thankful and appreciative for the things we had and to stress less about the things we wanted but didn’t have always centered on his own childhood Christmases.
Dad was born in 1913 and was in high school at the start of the Great Depression. He was fond of telling his three children that the stock market crash of 1929 didn’t have much impact on his family because “all of our stock was grazing in the pasture.”
He recalled childhood Christmases when times were hard and that “about all we got was an apple or an orange and maybe a stick of peppermint candy.” Hence, as an adult Dad measured the success he had in giving us a better life than he had simply by virtue of the fact that the sun never set in his household that there wasn’t a bowl of fresh fruit and a tin of peppermint sticks available.
During a lecture to a journalism class at Mississippi State on the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, I realized that I was channeling my father in terms of explaining the life-changing impact of that dark day to a group of college students who were 7 or 8 at the time of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Shanksville, PA.
My students receive their news from Twitter and Facebook or via texts or RSS feeds. It’s unfair to them to suggest that most of them don’t read printed newspapers or watch network or cable television newscasts, but it is fair to observe that fewer do than don’t.
At the time of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, Facebook was still three years in the future and Twitter was five years away from reality. Today’s college students have memories of 9-11, but those memories are not unlike my own memories of the Kennedy assassination or the Chicago riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – vague and incomplete.
Today’s college students on the whole don’t remember when air travel didn’t involve body scans, extensive personal and luggage searches and a certain amount of apprehension. During the lecture, reading their faces, I could see that for some of them 9-11 was relevant only in the manner that Pearl Harbor and D-Day was relevant to my generation – it was something very bad that happened in the past.
Perhaps the most difficult concept to get across to a group of students who were children during the 9-11 attacks was that brief and now long gone period after 9-11 when common fears, nationalism and patriotism drove Democrats and Republicans together to view ourselves as Americans rather than as our political and philosophical divisions.
When we felt safe again, Americans retreated to our partisan corners. The political rhetoric heated up again and the quiet determination of the immediate post-9-11 days gave way to the raucous cacophony of democracy – our loud, in-your-face struggle to have our political beliefs carry the day.
More than anything, as our nation watches 9-11 grow more distant in the nation’s rear-view mirror we become like teenagers listening to parents talk about hard times. We allow the valuable lessons from that cataclysm to wane and fade. And somewhere, I hear my old man talking about oranges and peppermint sticks.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.