Eye on the News

Nicole Gelinas
9/11’s New Eyes
Kids have a fresh reason today to ask about what happened a decade ago.
2 May 2011

At least once a month, my husband and I walk one-quarter of the length of Manhattan, down Hudson River Park to the old World Trade Center site. We’ve been doing this since we moved to Hell’s Kitchen from Brooklyn just a few months after 9/11.

We don’t make this trek as a purposeful pilgrimage. Rather, we stop at the World Trade Center site because it’s familiar and convenient. Both of us worked and spent free time downtown in the years before 9/11, and we fell quickly into doing it again. We eat ice cream at the World Financial Center if it’s warm out, and then walk up the staircase in the atrium of the financial center and look below to view construction progress at the former Ground Zero before walking home.

These days, you don’t have to look down to see change. One World Trade Center, as New Yorkers now call former governor Pataki’s planned “Freedom Tower,” is going up, and is now taller than many of the buildings around it. It took a long time to get used to sunlight shining into the World Financial Center lobby. Now, it’s taking time to get used to the shadows cast by a skyscraper again.

The hardest thing to get used to, though, is the little children who are a constant presence at the site. I see kids whose parents have brought them from around the country, and the world, for a respectful stop here. And I see boys and girls for whom the World Trade Center site has been a part of their neighborhood since birth. I know that it’s unlikely that anyone under the age of 14 or so today has memories of that day. The youngest sentient children today were born a good half-decade after the attack. Still, it’s hard to comprehend fully that they weren’t here on 9/11. Since then, New York and the world have been busy making new people to whom we must explain this event.

Where do you start? Until last night, it might have been hard for American children to appreciate how thoroughly Osama bin Laden enraged and terrified adult New Yorkers. How could one person do so much damage? But kids can surely see how relieved—and, well, satisfied—adults were this morning. They can see, too, how bin Laden’s death has also made some people uncomfortable—uncomfortable that they feel glad, and uncomfortable, too, about what they think they know about 9/11. If bin Laden had never existed, would someone else have perverted the same half-century’s worth of history into 9/11? Does one Saudi exile’s death lessen the threat to us, or heighten it? Or does it even matter operationally, after a decade’s worth of war?

A decade ago, visceral emotion spurred many people to hit the books and newspapers, trying to learn as much as they could about al-Qaida and about modern history. Ten years on, kids’ observation of our fresh emotions could spur a new generation to ask the same questions, and new ones.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and author of After The Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street—and Washington.

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