September 14, 2021

"Never Forget" What?

By Emma Swislow

I don’t remember September 11, 2001.

My parents say I visited my preschool for the first time that day — the same preschool they picked me up early from just in case there was an attack in Chicago, too. It’s weird because I remember so much from that time in my life (I was three years old). I remember my teachers, Joseph and Anita. I remember the friends I played tag with in the gymnasium. I remember building castles that inevitably crumbled in the sandbox, sitting on the green rug for circle time, and acting out a scene from “Sleeping Beauty” with a boy who gave me my first Valentine’s Day card. These are some of my most vivid early memories. And yet, I don’t remember the day that shaped the world I came of age in and occupy today.

In the wake of the PATRIOT Act, I learned that privacy should not be expected. In fact, I still operate under the assumption that the government (and Big Tech) know more about me than I do about myself. At a young age, I became a pro at going through security lines quickly — I knew to keep the quart-sized liquids bag in the outer pocket of my carry-on, to wear slip-on shoes, and to make sure my pockets were empty. These days I have TSA PreCheck, so all the years I spent rehearsing my role in the security theater have gone out the window. (No more placing my laptop in a separate container!)

Over the next several years my generation — the one that doesn’t remember 9/11 — needs to unlearn the status quo of the last two decades.

More than the surveillance or the security, it was the wars that began in the aftermath of 9/11 that had a profound impact on my life, even though I didn’t have a direct connection to them; no one from my family or inner circle served overseas. In fact, the only person I knew who deployed was a friend of my dad’s whom I’ve never met. But each day while riding in the back of the car to school, I’d hear the reporters on NPR talk about the number of American casualties or the Improvised Explosive Device explosions or the territories lost and gained that day. When I first became aware of what those numbers meant, I felt distressed. How could this many people be dying every day? How could it become such a normal part of life? How could we compress the war’s far-reaching magnitude into a single sentence at the end of each newscast before the traffic report?

The most obvious thing to do in this situation was to go to the source of power itself, so in 2005, when I was in second grade, I wrote a letter to President George W. Bush with a simple message about the war in Iraq: “I disagree with the war. It’s not right for people to get killed. Do something about it.” He (or most likely a White House intern) responded with a letter that outlined the humanitarian missions in the country and provided a somewhat bright outlook for the future of democracy in Iraq. As a bonus, I also received a photo of the president smiling and waving as he stepped onto Marine One.

Read the full article from Inkstick.