Sep. 11th, 2016 08:13 pm
magenta: (Fog)
[personal profile] magenta

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Twin Towers/Pentagon disasters. Nearly 3000 people were killed. I have been staying off the internet because I don't want to read all the hoopla. It was a tragic event, but it is hardly the only one in our history. Lately, it seems every generation has a tragedy that imprints itself on the people of the United States, and is hammered into our skulls – until the next one.

For my mother it was Pearl Harbor. Over 2400 killed, an attack by a foreign power on US soil. She told me she knew as soon as she heard it over the radio that life would never be the same. She told me that just after another such day of tragedy – November 22, 1963. I remember that day very clearly. It was terrifying; in the depths of the Cold War, many people though it might be the prelude to war, even invasion, that a foreign power might be responsible. It wasn't, but those were tense times. Five years later, there were two more assassinations: 4/4/68 Martin Luther King, and 6/6/68 Bobby Kennedy. People were afraid we would have rule by murder instead of ballot. (By the way, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, 5 days after the Civil War ended, there were the same sort of panics and fears, albeit in slower motion, because the word spread by telegraph and newspapers instead of television. He was the first U.S. President ever assassinated, and it was shocking to most people that such a thing could happen.)

We have had many tragedies in our history, and I don't want to try to recount all of them. But there are three more that stand out for me, two in my lifetime, one before I was born. The Hindenburg disaster, on May 6. 1937; 36 people died in a most spectacular and gruesome way. It was remarkable because there was media there to cover the landing, not yet a routine event. The broadcast that included an announcer declaiming “Oh, the humanity” has become banal, but at the time it was the expression of a truly horrifying event.

A disaster that greatly upset me was the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. I wasn't watching live at the time, but a friend was and called me, and I watched replays on the news much of the rest of the day. Seeing that occur on live TV, because launches were broadcast, can etch the memory quite deeply. And lastly, another bombing that seems to have been forgotten in the last 15 years – the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. I remember at the time many people thought it was done by Muslims – until it turned out to be homegrown, white, anti-government right-wingers. The death toll was 168, nearly 700 were injured, and it was a traumatizing event for many, many more people.

I think we need to start asking hard questions about why these events occur (though I know two were accidents), and why we react to them the way we do. Not that disasters and tragedies should be forgotten, but what we do with the memories, what we are motivated to do, and not do, because of them.

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