“9/11: Reflections of a National Tragedy”
|Travis Armand Remembers|
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began as a typical school day. Adhering to my predictable routine, I exchanged small talk with a few students and made my way to the Coke machine for my usual early morning caffeine fix. Needing sixty cents, I reached into my pocket to find two quarters and a dime. The machine refused to accept the dime. Upon further investigation I noticed that my dime was a 1941 Lady Liberty dime. Recognizing the rarity of the coin, I tucked it into my pocket, bummed ten cents from a fellow teacher, and sat down to await the first hour bell. For the next few minutes, the 1941 Lady Liberty dime was the topic of conversation in the teachers’ lounge. As the discussion went on, my thoughts drifted. I wondered how many Cokes I could have purchased in 1941 with this dime; two I assumed, and I attempted to calculate the percentage of inflation.
Scrutinizing the coin, I thought about how much history had passed us by in the last sixty years: World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of the Kennedys and King in the 1960's, the lunar landing, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Challenger disaster came to mind just to name a few. However, the coin’s date immediately brought one event to mind, Pearl Harbor. “December 7, 1941-A date which will live in infamy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in his war message to Congress sixty years earlier. Little did I know that the Lady Liberty dime, the coin that would eventually bear F.D.R.’s image, was not to be my only reminder of Pearl Harbor this seemingly ordinary school day.
On this September morning we would soon learn that terrorists had highjacked four airliners. These terrorists ruthlessly steered two of these planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth highjacked plane, likely destined for a target in Washington, D.C., crashed in western Pennsylvania. In this series of events, countless innocent Americans needlessly lost their lives.
As documentation of cellular phone conversations indicate, passengers aboard the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania were aware of the nature of the terrorists’ objectives. The passengers on this flight voted to overpower the highjackers in an attempt to thwart their plans. Isn’t it ironic that the terrorists’ primary objective, the weakening of democracy, was the very force that lead to the failure of their intended mission?
Throughout this devastating day, my students watched the horrifying, dramatic scenes unfold on television. They watched in horrific amazement as the first tower collapsed, followed shortly thereafter by the second tower. In slow motion and from varying angles, CNN repeatedly showed images of the airliners crashing into the two buildings that for thirty years had dominated New York City’s famous skyline. Later in the day, images from the damage at the Pentagon were broadcast. These three structures once stood as proud testaments to the economic and military might of the United States. In a matter of minutes, one was severely damaged and two were reduced to rubble.
As I looked around my classroom, I saw blank faces and teary eyes. Students huddled closely together and put their arms around each another. As the day progressed and the realization and ramifications of the tragedy that had befallen the nation began to resonate among the students, their shock and sadness gave way to anger, resentment, and talk of retaliation. The most frequently asked question was “why?” As the adult in the room the dubious honor of fielding this question became my reluctant responsibility. I’m afraid that my lengthy response regarding the United States’ historic support of a tiny nation in the Middle East, the only democracy in the region, located half a world away from Avoyelles Parish, was a bit inadequate and fell upon confused ears.
It soon dawned upon me that until now, this generation of students had been lucky. They don’t remember a time when Bunkie Little League was segregated, they know nothing of what it was to live under the umbrella of the Cold War, and the Gulf War is simply an event that they study every May in American History class.
As President Bush has stated, “We are at war.” This war is like none other in our history. There is no singular nation or any fixed target for us to attack. Not since the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 has a foreign enemy actively engaged us in our homeland. Our way of life is under siege like few times in our national history. Unlike the brevity of the Gulf War, this twenty first century variety of war is ongoing, long term, and possibly perpetual in nature.
National tragedies have a way of uniting Americans. However, we Americans can be fickle, possessing short-lived attention spans. Now more than ever, sustained national unity is a must. Those responsible for these barbaric attacks are equal opportunity destroyers. Blacks, whites, Democrats, Republicans, millionaires, and minimum wage workers all fell victim to the terrorists’ senseless acts of war in New York City, in Washington, D.C., and in the fields of rural, western Pennsylvania. In the eyes of the terrorists, their mission was to cripple the United States by killing Americans. The particular variety of hyphenated American with which one feels an affiliation was not on the terrorists’ list of prerequisites for murder. Furthermore, no victim was asked, “How do you feel about the Social Security “lock box” or missile defense?” before he or she was massacred. As my grandfather, a man of the World War II generation, was fond of saying, “We’re all aboard the same sinking boat. We can point fingers and sink, or plug the holes and stay afloat.”
The comparison between the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001 cannot be understated. The parallel is uncanny. In this analogy we are grimly reminded that history does indeed repeat itself. However, if this is the case, our unwavering resolve, our belief in democracy, our perseverance, and our passion for justice will once again carry the day and triumph.
It is my hope that those students, with whom I spent September 11, 2001 viewing the news coverage of the bombings, as well as all students of 2001 across the nation, do not have to suffer the same sacrifices that their grandparents’ generation had to endure in 1941 and in subsequent years following the attack on Pearl Harbor. NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw once described the World War II generation of Americans as “the greatest generation.” I pray that the current generation of young Americans will not have to rise to the occasion and challenge their predecessors for that lofty title. By the same token, it is mandatory and absolutely necessary that we as a nation respond to the terrorists’ cowardly acts of treachery and take whatever means necessary to prevent such attacks in the future.
It is my belief that President Bush’s words will ultimately become a reality. While speaking to a group of rescue workers at the ruins of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the President climbed atop the wreckage of a fire truck. With his arm around a weary firefighter, President Bush commandeered a bullhorn. “We can’t hear you, George! ,” a rescue worker yelled. Mr. Bush responded, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
I have never been superstitious, but I cannot help thinking of my 1941 Lady Liberty dime. Was it an eerie omen of the tragedy to come, or was it a reassuring, tell tale sign that this war will be ultimately won? An optimist as I am, I believe the latter and will hang onto my silver good luck token for the time being.
Travis Armand, Aldermen
City of Bunkie
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