After five years, strong feelings remain over 9/11

Feelings of grief, anger and vulnerability over the 9/11 terrorist attacks five years ago remain strong for most Americans, according to James Booth, a Vanderbilt University professor of political science and philosophy.

Booth, whose research includes the remembrance of national events, said that the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, has not diminished substantially in the minds of many citizens, especially those who lost family members and friends. “One might have thought that the passage of five years might have healed some of the ‘visceral open wounds’ that Americans experienced from the tragedy, but the feelings are still intense,” he said.

Booth points to the tremendous controversy when United 93 was first released, especially in New York City, since many thought it was too soon to watch the film. He disagrees. “Films, novels, academic studies and other projects about 9/11 are going to appear, and there will be discussion and debate about how best to remember the day,” he said. “While the controversy can be painful, it’s an unavoidable part of what we do in a democratic society when we remember significant historical events.”

Booth is not surprised about the intense disagreements among various groups about how best to design some of the memorials to the 9/11 victims. “It is a fact of life in a democracy that these memorials will be contested and interpreted in different ways.”

Booth remembers that there was much controversy about the design of the VietnamVeterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., when it opened. More recently, there was debate about the design of a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Booth spent time in Europe researching how the Holocaust victims and World War II soldiers have been remembered there for his recently published book Communities of Memory (Cornell University Press).

Just as there are continuing efforts to educate young people about the atrocities of the Holocaust so that it never happens again, Booth said it is important for Americans not to let 9/11 slip into oblivion. “The same destructive forces that were active that day remain active today and clearly intend for the United States and other democracies to be harmed,” he said. “The act of remembering the 3,000 innocent human beings who died that day is a deep moral obligation for all of us.”