By RUSSELL BLAIR
NEW BRITAIN â€” Matthew Warshauer was lecturing on the Civil War at the Southington Public Library one September a few years ago when he looked outside and saw a banner not unlike thousands of others across the country: 9/11, We Will Never Forget.
But it got the Central Connecticut State University history professor wondering how long that sentiment would hold true.
â€śHere I am trying to remind people â€¦ of literally the biggest conflict in American history, and nobody remembers it,â€ť he said of his work related to the Civil War. â€śSo it got me thinking about historical memory. How long will we remember (9/11)?â€ť
It seems unfathomable to most Americans that they could forget the terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives one Tuesday in September. Years of memorial services, moments of silence and two wars in the Middle East have made discussion about 9/11 inescapable.
But many young Americans have no recollection of the dayâ€™s events or of the countryâ€™s early response. Most high school sophomores today were born after the attacks.
Even though they are too young to have any memories of Sept. 11, 2001, Warshauer argues that the generation after the millennials â€” people born between 2000 and 2020 â€” should be referred to as the 9/11 Generation.
â€śThis is a generation that has been fundamentally shaped by the attacks and the American response,â€ť he said.
In a presentation heâ€™s scheduled to give at the Old State House in Hartford on Sept. 20, Warshauer lays out some of the things that generation has grown up with: the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the downturn of the U.S. and world economies, partisan gridlock on foreign policy and the threat of Islamic terrorism.
â€śEven though the particulars of the event itself may not resonate with many younger people who didnâ€™t live through it, certainly theyâ€™re living with the consequences of it,â€ť said Bilal Sekou, a professor of political science at the University of Hartford who is joining Warshauer for a panel discussion after his presentation.
Sekou said his students today have grown up in a â€śsecurity state,â€ť with a color-coded threat level scale and where they have to take their shoes off to board a plane. Most have no recollection of pre-9/11 society.
â€śThe world has just so fundamentally changed I donâ€™t think they have the basis for making a comparison,â€ť he said.
So, two years ago, Warshauer started teaching a course at CCSU called â€ś9/11 Generation,â€ť aimed at educating young students about the event.
Some students come to the course â€świth zero knowledgeâ€ť of 9/11, he said.
â€śThatâ€™s been the most fascinating thing,â€ť Warshauer said. â€śIt dawned on me: In another two years, my students are going to have absolutely no emotional connection or memory of 9/11 at all. The subject is merely going to be another history class to them, which blows my mind.â€ť
Warshauer was teaching at CCSU on 9/11 and heâ€™s seen firsthand how the event has affected successive groups of students in different ways.
â€śAs the anniversary has come each year, Iâ€™m with the same age group of students, but their view of society and certainly their understanding of the event in history has changed,â€ť he said.
For his next book, Warshauer plans to write about what he calls the 9/11 Generation. As part of his research, heâ€™s looked at other major historical events and observed how they faded from memory. According to a 2015 survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, half of Americans donâ€™t know when the Civil War took place.
Another example Warshauer uses is the attack on Pearl Harbor. Only about 10 percent of Americans alive today have any memory of Pearl Harbor.
Christine Dennehy, a CCSU senior from Danbury, took Warshauerâ€™s course last fall. She was 5 years old on 9/11, but about all she remembers is that her parents picked her up early from school and that they were worried about her brother, who was on a flight.
â€śIt was an eye-opening course to take,â€ť Dennehy said. â€śI learned more than I ever could have imagined. If I hadnâ€™t taken this class, I would not know anything about it and I wouldnâ€™t have thought to look up information.â€ť
Warshauer said the generation that is an alive when an event occurs that is most likely to continue to commemorate it year after year. Memorials and the like are usually built in the immediate aftermath, not by future generations.
Dennehy said she thinks itâ€™s important to continue to commemorate 9/11.
â€śItâ€™s not something we should let fade into history,â€ť she said.
But Dennehy also thinks itâ€™s important that such commemorations are informative.
â€śPeople know the day, but if you donâ€™t know anything about it thereâ€™s no point in commemorating it,â€ť she said.
Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, lost his sister on 9/11. She worked for an investment firm on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centerâ€™s north tower. The world has moved on in many ways since the attack, Klitzman said, but it should continue to be remembered.
Klitzman said itâ€™s important that people memorialize the victims, but also look for other lessons that can be learned from 9/11.
â€ś9/11 made us realize the horrors of terrorism and the reasons we need to combat it, but also the reasons why senseless violence is never justified,â€ť he said.
Every year on Sept. 11, Klitzman and his family members visit ground zero in New York City. He said the permanent memorial and museum that has been erected there will help to keep the memory of the attack alive for future generations.
Writing in The Daily Beast, Kevin M. Levin, a historian and educator from Boston, said, â€śThereâ€™s no immediate danger of Americans forgetting 9/11.â€ť
â€śBut at some point,â€ť he wrote, â€śour collective memory, with its emphasis on recalling the visceral emotions experienced that day, will shift to a more detached perspective that situates the event within a broader historical context.â€ť
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