Our Opinion: There are still lessons to be learned from Sept. 11
Where were you when the planes hit?
As of this Saturday, it's been 20 years since the nation was rocked by the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history. Like the assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the strike, colloquially called 9/11, is seared into our collective consciousness.
Beyond the deaths and the shattered lives — from the destruction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the hijacking and crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania — the attack also left much of the nation frightened in a way it hadn't been before.
It was a traumatizing event for the nation at large.
Some good did emerge. The nation became consolidated around the support of New York City. Today, two decades later, we live in a much more fractured society, but for a while there, in 2001, Americans were on the same page.
Airplane travel is much safer today, and such a mass hijacking would be much less likely. Some security changes make great sense, such as limiting who can get to airport gates and who can't. Others make less sense: British terrorist Richard Reid unsuccessfully attempted to turn his shoe into a bomb in 2001, and now the rest of us have to doff our shoes before we embark.
One lesson to be drawn, 20 years later, compares 9/11 to COVID-19.
In December 2020, Pamplin Media Group interviewed Dr. Stephanie Maya López, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. She warned that Oregon, the nation, and the world had been traumatized by the pandemic: by the deaths, the illnesses, the isolation, the scarcity of societal norms like hugs and handshakes, company softball teams, or munching popcorn in a movie theater. She said some people wear their trauma on their sleeves, while others keep it within, shove it down, and ignore it.
Dr. Lopez compared the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and 9/11.
"That flu pandemic has become famous for the fact that people pretty much stopped talking about it as soon as it went away," she told the Tribune. "It wasn't until the 1970s … that people really started to think about it and its after-effects. It is my hope that we don't make that mistake again. The first step from recovering from any kind of traumatic event is to acknowledge it and talk about it."
In comparison, she said, the people of Manhattan owned their trauma, talked about it and acknowledged it.
"The resilience and the grit that people demonstrated in New York after 9/11 was remarkable. I would look to New York City as the model for that," Lopez said.
"One of the things that happened in New York City is, the state and the city and the county governmental bodies created a lot of explicit support for the entire community that was traumatized," she said. "There were memorials, there were (places christened with names), there were performances. Just lots of support for continuing that conversation. And I think the reason it happened that way, as opposed to the pandemic, is because it … was a military attack, not a biological attack."
People are accustomed to memorializing war and peace, but not disease and health. Armistice Day celebrated the end of World War I. However, there is no day of remembrance for the Spanish Flu pandemic that the returning soldiers spread across the globe.
So, as we remember the tragedy, trauma and true heroics that emerged from 9/11, let us also use it as a guide for how we commemorate this pandemic. People in our towns, in Oregon, in the nation and across the world have been traumatized by COVID-19. It is our hope that we, as a society, treat it as we did the attacks on Manhattan:
That we own our trauma, talk about it and acknowledge it.
If that tragedy from two decades ago helps us navigate this crisis today, then there will be some good to emerge from that day of horror.
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