Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be remembered as a day of tragedy and resilience in the history of the United States. While 19 al-Qaida members hijacked four passenger airliners to attack the United States, children of today’s generation were still learning their ABCs, oblivious that the events of that day would affect them more than a decade later. Listen to voices of this generation speak about what 9/11 means to them and how they learn about it.
SAHAR MUHAMMED, 17, senior at Sarasota Military Academy
Muhammad’s family is originally from Detroit, and they are of the Islam faith. Muhammad hopes to attend Fullsail University in Orlando to study recording arts. Her love of music began to develop as a child when her father shared music with her from artists such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince.
How do you remember the events of 9/11?
I think I was in first grade around that time, and I remember hearing about it on the news, like I heard my parents talking about it. So, I didn’t really hear about it during school, but I remember just hearing about the fact that planes flew into another building. When you are young, it scares you because you don’t expect anything like that to happen. You think the world is all nice and perfect, but I didn’t think it was terrorism, or that it was a big thing, but it was pretty scary to me.
Your generation has grown up in a state of constant war. What are your feelings about that?
In a way, I think I am used to it because there are a lot of conflicts that go on today, so I feel like it is a human thing. People have different opinions.
How do you feel about the government monitoring your phone calls and emails because of the ripple effect of an event that happened more than a decade ago?
It does kind of scare me, in a way. I mean I have nothing to hide, so it doesn’t bother me that way, but it is kind of personal, like, I wouldn’t want my mom listening in when I am talking with a friend, so the fact that the government is, it’s just kind of like an invasion of your personal space.
Do you think your generation understands what 9/11 meant?
I don’t think so. I feel like older people do because they just understand problems today better. I mean if we weren’t there to experience it, then we just don’t understand it as well.
You have an Arabic name; have you ever felt targeted because of your name?
Yeah I have gotten that. I used to get it a lot in middle school, and I used to hate telling people my last name because I knew somebody would just say something about it. A lot of kids would call me a terrorist just because they look at the name and they automatically assume you are a Muslim and you are associated with all of that, but I wasn’t. It did hurt for a while but I did learn to kind of let people say what they want. It does hurt because I am not associated with any of that.
RYAN SIMONSON, Iraq War veteran
Simonson was a cadet at the United States Military Academy when the events of 9/11 transpired. He was part of the bicentennial class to graduate from the academy at West Point in 2002. After graduation that June he married his wife, Julie, and five days later was sent to Fort Knox, Ky., to go through Army officer basic course. Once he completed that, his brigade of 2,500 troops were sent to California, where they performed mission-readiness exercises.
On March 20, 2003, his platoon was the first to cross the frontline into Iraq and to invade. He served two deployments and his son, Ender, was born May 10, 2005, while he was gone on his second deployment.
“When my wife and I celebrated our third-year wedding anniversary,” Simonson says, “we had actually been together in the same house for 74 days, out of close to 1,000 days of marriage.”
Simonson now works at the Patterson Foundation and reflects on the days of 9/11, the aftermath and how he educates his children about that historic day.
How did you feel when your oldest son, Ender, was born?
He was born while I was deployed. One of my favorite photos is of me talking to him through the horrible hospital handset, and we had about a five-second conversation before the place that I was at began getting shelled, and I had to jump off the roof, because that’s the only place the satellite phone had connectivity.
But, it was still the most amazing feeling to get the Red Cross note saying, “Congratulations, you are a dad. This, however, does not warrant a leave from your duties here in the Middle East.”
How did you feel about your first deployment?
I felt an incredible sense of purpose the first deployment. You have to understand that I was in the group of soldiers that crossed the border that crossed the berm, that actually did the invasion that liberated the air fields, that secured the supply lines, that secured Baghdad militarily. I was there when the first IED occurred.
How did you feel about your second deployment?
The areas we were operating in overlapped with areas from the first deployment. Not much more had changed; there hadn’t been this wave of improvement that we thought. We saw it just dissipate. It was very much this sensation of treading water.
How do you talk to your children about 9/11 today?
When I frame the events of 9/11 for my kids, I specifically have stayed nebulous. I have spoken to them in how it has affected their life in an age-appropriate way. My kids now are 8, 5 and 4 years old. And, at the time, really all they cared about was why was I going to be gone for a long time. And when I wasn’t deployed to Iraq it was, “Well, why do you have to be gone 20 hours a day, six days a week, training up other people who are going to go to Iraq?” For the most part, for their ages, it was, “Hey, look, buddy, this is the thing.
There are bad people in this world, and there are people who I believe are good.” That’s all based entirely on subjective analysis anyways, but explaining it to a kid, you say there are bad guys and there are good guys and right now the bad guys they are active and moving around. I want to make sure you guys are safe and the best way I know how to do that is by being in the military and doing the job that I am doing right now.
MICHELLE ANDERSON, Booker High School teacher
Michelle Anderson teaches dual-enrollment U.S. history and a law studies course at Booker High School. She was studying to obtain her Master of Arts in Teaching when the terrorist attacks occurred. Her husband, Wayne, has been on two deployments in the Middle East.
What was significant about 9/11 in a historic context?
In the context of U.S. history, we have only been attacked on our own soil in the war of 1812, when we had an invading army come in. We obviously fought ourselves in the Civil War. We were attacked at our bases in Pearl Harbor but between 1941 and 2001. There hadn’t been a full-frontal attack on a U.S. state, much less much less any territory or base we had. There had been attacks on bases and embassies all throughout the world in the ’70s and ’80s but nothing here at our home. Even in 1941, it was our post, out in the Pacific Ocean close to Asia, it was not our own home soil.
Do you think that the students you teach have a grasp of how 9/11 has affected our history?
In history, everything has a cause-and-effect connection to it. Nothing is happening in isolation or in a bubble. The economic circumstances we have been in in the last seven years are connected, not only to our increased spending in the military effort to fight in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but the inflated housing and the job placement. So, it’s a multitude of factors, and in teaching them this information in economics or in government or in U.S. history with big ideas and concepts, you have to kind of get to them. But, as far as their knowledge of it, I don’t know if there basic comparison is strong enough to say, “Oh, I recognize what life was like before and what it is like now.“
How do you teach students about 9/11 today?
Sept. 11 is taught in the global changes of not only the U.S. but of the world. You have to teach the kids that it did happened to us, and it is something that has transformed our history today in that when we look at it 50 years later or 60 years later, it will be one of these big events like Pearl Harbor was. You have to put it in that sort of context, so they can understand that its not just an American-centric issue, that it’s a global issue and how to understand the motivations of what terrorists are going after and why the ideas of the Western world and how they structure their government and their economies and what threat the other nations feel about it that you can’t put a religion on terrorism. That the people who act in a terrorist way may follow a certain conservative or extreme view of a particular religion, but that does not mean that everyone of that religion is of the same mindset. As with every educational environment, you need to give kids the information, help them critically think about it and come to conclusions that can be academically based so they insert themselves into the world in such a way as not to foster further hostilities or biases.