Friday, September 12, 2014

How do you tell a 13-year old about 9/11?

Where were you the moment you realized the world was forever changed? 

Where were you on 9/11?

E Ring of the Pentagon, between Corridors 4 and 5

Me? I was in the Pentagon, on the 3d floor, E (outer) ring, between corridors 4 and 5.  Lieutenant General (LTG) Timothy J. Maude was the Army G1, and I was his representative to an Army Transformation Campaign Plan meeting being held in the G3's conference room. At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into LTG Maude's office on the 2d floor, E ring, between corridors 4 and 5. A floor slab is all that separated me from the inferno below. The conference room in which I had been seated and from which I safely escaped later collapsed into the fire.

LTG Maude was only 53 years old when his life
was cut short by a terrorist attack on the Pentagon 

A friend of mine answered the "where were you?" question this way, "Getting ready to teach US History in Long Beach, Ca ...trying to figure out how to explain this to 13-year olds."

That really got me thinking! How would my friend--or any of us--explain 9/11 to 13-year olds in 2001? Even more interesting--how would our explanation change over time? Would the lessons of 9/11 remain the same for 13-year olds year-after-year? Of course not. The intervening events of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the execution of Osama bin Laden, the Coalition's recent redeployment from Iraq, and the subsequent and rapid rise of ISIS would all be part of the story--part of the post-9/11 world.

Memorial benches point toward the Pentagon if the person was on the plane and
away from the Pentagon if the person was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack

What do you say about 9/11 to a child who has grown up in the post-9/11 world? My own children were 7 and 4 on the day I came home early from work because my office disintegrated. They were 13 and 10 at the time I deployed to Baghdad to join MNC-I. My children were directly impacted by 9/11 and have grown up in a post-9/11 world. What would you say to a 13-year old US History student on Sept 11, 2014?

184 memorial benches, one for each victim, are aligned with the
flight path of the jetliner that slammed into the Pentagon on 9/11

I would say this: History is a jagged line over time. The point of studying history is to remember past peaks and valleys, reflect on the significance of them, and renew our values and sense of purpose so we can keep absorbing life's plot twists, return to the center line and continue driving on.

The nameplate on LTG Maude's memorial bench
is viewed with the Pentagon in the background.

The USA today is far from an idyllic Garden of Eden. In fact, the impressive achievements of mankind are matched in magnitude by our horrifying failures. Looking across time at the arc of history, I would say that things have gotten both better and worse since the earliest days of civilization. The peaks are higher and the valleys are lower. We live in times of increasing amplitude. Resilience is more critical to survival than ever. I would look at the arc of history and tell young students that they must stay strong--getting back up when knocked down, and continuing to struggle against the forces that push and pull.

LTG Maude was born in 1947. This marker designates
the row in which his memorial bench can be found

The post-9/11 world today looks quite different from the world I saw as a 13-year old 40 years ago. By the time my kids reach my current age, they will likely have witnessed even greater heights and even lower lows. Because history is a jagged line over time....and at the extremes, the amplitude is increasing...

This five-sided memorial in Arlington National Cemetery contains the
names of all 184 people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon

God Bless educators for helping prepare our young people for survival, stability, success, and hopefully even significance in an uncertain and sometimes frightening world. May we all draw upon the lessons of 9/11 to learn how to find balance, restore calm, and share peace.