Forgetting 9/11

Most 1Ls have no living member of September 11, 2001

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

According to the LSAC, the average age of law students is about twenty-three. We can estimate that most 1Ls were born in the late 1990s. I think we can also safely assume that most of these students have no living memory of September 11, 2001. They know about 9/11 as a historical event, the same way I know about JFK's assassination, Pearl Harbor, or the sinking of the Titanic.

I was born in 1984. I was seventeen on 9/11. I hope to do my role for as long as I can can. This morning I posted my annual remembrance of September 11, 2001. But in time, it will fade.

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  1. Your personal recollection of 9/11 is probably unreliable. Despite peoples’ outrageous confidence about vivid details of traumatic events, the science on memories doesn’t bear it out generally. For 9/11 specifically:

    “What exactly did you learn about the accuracy of 9/11 memories in the national survey?

    It’s important to mention that when we talk about “accuracy” here, we mean accuracy for details like, how did find you find out about 9/11, or who were you with? It’s not the case that you don’t have a fairly vivid image in your head of the planes crashing into the building. No one’s forgetting 9/11 occurred.

    Our measure of accuracy is consistency with what people told us in the survey the week after the attack. From that first survey to the second survey a year later, the overall consistency of the details of how they learned of 9/11 was only 63 percent. At the third survey, three years after the attack, consistency was 57 percent. So people were only a little more than 50 percent right for a lot of the details.

    But they were particularly bad at remembering what their emotions were after 9/11—accurate only about 40 percent of the time, after a year. And yet overall, for all those details, people’s confidence in their memories was, on average, greater than 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.”

    What’s interesting is that people’s memories faded after a year, but then jumped up (after events such as movies like Faranheit 9/11). This suggests that when they announced the correct answer years later (which they had missed in prior surveys), they were not answering from a genuine, subjective memory of the day, but from what they recalled from a later event (a movie).

    1. For more information, here is a study on it.

      Some interesting examples from below. Note that S1 took place on September 21, 2001 (ten days after), S2 was August 2002 (about a year later), S3 was three years later (August 2004), and S4 was around 10 years later (August 2011).

      Here are some (selected) responses:

      Participant 1: Where, What Doing?
      S1: Kitchen, making breakfast
      S2: In dorm room, folding laundry
      S3: Ironing in dorm room
      S4: In dorm room, ironing

      Participant 4: Where
      S1: I was sitting in my office
      S2: I was standing on the street
      S3: Standing near the office on the street
      S4: Near the office

      1. I have heard it said, “All stories are true. Some actually happened.” Over time, the stories which are retold become true. The best story, the most interesting story, wins. That doesn’t means it really happened.

  2. I was born in 1950, so I do not directly remember Pearl Harbor. But I do certainly remember that people remembered Pearl Harbor, and continued to talk about their memories of where they were when they first heard of it. That’s kind of the “second half” of remembering, remembering the people who talked about remembering. I do remember JFK’s assassination. I delivered newspapers that afternoon, much later than usual. But I don’t often talk about that.

  3. This is why no one can live forever.

    1. Also, what was your first pet’s name?

  4. Living history becomes history. Such is the way of humanity.

    9-11 will become myth and narrative, as it already is for any who have to hear about it from other telling stories.

    This is not something to be lamented, nor for people to strain to avoid. Is Pearl Harbor diminished now that most of those who lived it have passed? Are our Founders diminished? Or embiggened beyond mortality by memorials and musicals?

  5. For me, the “major event” of my early lifetime was the Challenger. Living on the west coast, I woke up to news coverage of the first plane hitting the WTC, which had happened while I was still sleeping. I got up and turned on the TV, and the networks were covering the first crash when the second one came. That’s when I got my daughter out of bed. She was in grade school at the time, so I couldn’t say how much of the day’s events had real meaning to her. We were a long way from NYC and the landmark of the WTC didn’t have any significance for her, except for having been featured in a Simpsons episode. So it was probably about as real as Springfield for her.
    I went to work, but not much work got done that day.

  6. My son was 4 years old and much into airplanes (we lived near a small airport then). His only questions were about the planes.

    “Did the glass break?”

    “Yes.”

    “Did the wings break?”

    “Yes.”

    “How about the seats? Did the seats break?”

    “Um, yes.”

  7. Half of the Islamic terrorists who did 9/11 were talking advantage of loose immigration controls regarding overstaying visas. Half a million people per year still do that today.

    15 years after the 9/11 commission recommended closing lax immigration loopholes in response to this, the changes they recommended still have not been implemented.

    1. Could you be specific about the recommendation the commission made but which has not been followed? Not a rhetorical question.

    2. “Half of the Islamic terrorists who did 9/11 were talking advantage of loose immigration controls regarding overstaying visas.”

      This results from how difficult it is to get a deportation hearing, because the number of people who can hear those cases is limited. Allegedly, Republicans want to improve immigration enforcement but they didn’t take this obvious and necessary adjustment even when they controlled all three branches of government.

  8. I see no reason to place special emphasis on the September 11 attacks.

    A number of events seem more deserving of remembrance and commemoration. The civil rights struggle (King assassination, Pettus Bridge, Freedom Riders, Civil Rights Act, and plenty more). Vietnam (especially the protests and revelations of government misconduct). World War II. Overcoming polio. The moon mission.

    That is not an exhaustive list but seems adequate to make the point.

    1. The first couple of years after the towers came down, rememberance ceremonies were important because we hadn’t caught and punished the attack’s planner(s). With that task now complete, the importance shifts to making sure the first responders who went to the site while it was still a building on fire rather than a pile of rubble, and all the people who worked in the rubble pile are properly taken care of.

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