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There's been no shortage of reminders over the past few weeks of the events that took place in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania five years ago today. On TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines--this one included--there's naturally been plenty of discussion of what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, and all that's happened, or not happened, since.
The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, along with the passenger uprising against the terrorists who'd taken control of Flight 93, was the sort of event that stays with you forever. It's no surprise that a survey conducted in August by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 95% of Americans could recall exactly where they were or what they were doing when they first learned about the attacks.
Nearly half of those questioned, 47%, said they felt the 9/11 attacks were as serious as the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and another 35% said the Sept. 11 attacks were more serious. And 51% of those questioned in the Pew survey said the attacks had changed life in the United States "in a major way," with 22% saying their own lives had changed because of the attacks.
In the weeks immediately following the attacks, there was a lot of discussion among pundits and others quick to prognosticate about such things that life as we knew it had changed forever.
On the cultural front, one notion forwarded by several was that 9/11 meant the "end of irony." In fact though, many scholars of literature and cultural history suggest that it was in response to an earlier horror, World War I, that irony actually took hold as a key element of our culture.
In his excellent book "The Great War and Modern Memory," Paul Fussell, cultural historian and professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Pennsylvania, makes that point, writing, "I am saying that there seems to be one dominating form of modern understanding; that it is essentially ironic; and that it originates largely in the application of mind and memory to the events of the Great War."
World War II and living in the shadow of The Bomb throughout the Cold War years tightened irony's cultural grip. Add the terrorist threat to the mix and irony was probably never really in jeopardy.
Others spoke of changes 9/11 would make elsewhere in our lives. People wouldn't get married on Sept. 11, for example, and would hope their children would be born on some other date. Various accounts indicated there was a drop-off in wedding activity on Sept. 11, 2004. The next Sept. 11 falling on a Saturday is in 2010. We'll see whether the number of couples exchanging vows then moves closer to the norm.
I know my youngest brother's birthday is Dec. 7 and, aside from my father joking that had he been a girl they'd have named him Pearl, I don't remember any special attention to the particular date on which he was born.
Obviously some things have changed. Security considerations, clearly. We've learned to walk in stocking feet through airport metal detectors, and are now adapting our in-flight thirst quenching and personal grooming habits to the ban on carrying aboard liquids and lotions.
In the papers and the nightly news, details of the execution of the War on Terror are an ongoing subject of political debate.
We've also sought to prepare ourselves for the worst. A recent survey commissioned by the National Emergency Response & Rescue Training Center, a division of the Texas A&M University System's Texas Engineering Extension Service, showed that 73% of 629 companies surveyed across various industries rated their company's response plans for a disaster or terrorist attack as good to excellent.
Concerning their company's training programs for such response, 64% said their efforts were good to excellent. But, while 62% of the companies surveyed said they'd conducted a drill simulating a disaster or attack in the past year, 25% said they'd never conducted such an exercise.
For all that's changed and all that hasn't over the past five years, one undeniable constant is the loss of family, friends and colleagues who were victims of the attacks of 9/11. Our regard for them and our sympathies for those they left behind should remain unchanged as well.