Teaching 9/11

Written by on September 9, 2011 in Contributing Authors, New in Social Media, Uncategorized - 2 Comments

 Soon after our nation’s finest warriors killed Osama Bin Laden, and his photo was splashed across every magazine and newspaper in the country, my six-year-old son asked me, “Daddy, who is that man?”

Suzanne and I are strong adherents of being forthright and honest with our children, but this sudden question was a real moment of truth for me. How to explain the notion of sanctioned murder? To a six-year old?

I didn’t want to burden him with certain harsh realities of the world, but I also couldn’t miss this unique, teachable moment to instill what I felt was important cultural knowledge in my next of kin. So I endeavored to build a case against this strange-looking old man in the pictures.

Up to that point, I hadn’t yet explored the encyclopedia of video clips on YouTube capturing the events of 9/11/01—an endless catalog of news reports, interviews and footage. If I hadn’t felt so raw while my son and I reviewed these moving pictures, I might have marveled more at how the digital age has made American history so accessible.

But for me, seeing the towers fall in New York again meant physically revisiting the chaos of that day from my own memory bank: a beautiful late-summer Tuesday that morphed into the surreal when an out-of-place boom directed my attention to the Pentagon, visible from where I was just a mile or two away. In the days, weeks and months to follow, a strange new anxiety grew in me that was palpable—and was, for over a year, inescapable.

The faltering voices of the broadcasters in the videos, the shrieking and panicking bystanders near the towers, the sheer level of destruction on display, and a teary-eyed, choked up father was more than enough for my son to comprehend the evil at play here.

And then he asked me, “Is that why you were in Afghanistan, dad?”

“You’re a wise young man,” I replied.

2 Comments on "Teaching 9/11"

  1. Jim Muccio September 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm ·

    As with everything this month that seeks to remember the event…you sent chills up my spine. Thanks for posting.

    These events can never truly be fathomed because the cause and the effect were so unbalanced. For a whack-job like OBL to change the world based on his theology and then to be found (and finished) skulking in his stash of pornography destroys even the slightest hint of a higher calling.

    Yet we must remember and teach our children so that they can move forward with understanding even though balance will never exist…at least not for us. The great sacrifices that continue to be made are as current as the latest casualties in Afghanistan, continue to weigh the scale in one direction. We have to break free from this one way effect if we are ever to close this sad chapter in our history.

    So yes, Dad was in Afghanistan to right the wrong that this man perpetrated on society. But the man alone is not worth the cost. If we are to extract any cost, meaning, or balance from this event it has to be that radical extremism has no place in a civilized world…and radical extremism has no race, color, creed, or political affiliation. How do we teach that lesson?

  2. StyleMatters September 9, 2011 at 4:46 pm ·

    Jim, so good to hear from you.

    I wish I knew the answer… I do know that neither sticking our heads in the sand nor building a wall to isolate ourselves is a very useful approach, however politically expedient.

    What I think is useful: fostering understanding of fellow human beings and other cultures, minimizing desperation and poverty, and taking action to halt and punish acts of extreme violence.

    These are pretty squishy and abstract concepts though, and I know my 6-year old, as curious as he is to learn about the world, will quickly drift into his dreamworld of Angry Birds or the Avengers before I could ever hope to finish that explanation.

    So I suppose we as parents are best off giving our children the judgment and the intellectual toolkit to deal in the best possible way with whatever chaos happens to cross their path.

    To me, a large part of this means teaching recognition of the fundamental reality that the world is growing smaller and more tightly interconnected everyday. If 9/11 taught us nothing else, it’s that the world around us is evolving in chaotic fashion in ways we realize and ones we don’t–whether we like it or not.

    And as citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth, we have the rare privilege (or responsibility, some would say) to do something about it–or else let the next generation muddle through the consequences.

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