When I was in high school, my history teacher went through the story of December 7, 1941. He didn’t start with the events of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Instead, he started with the Japanese Empire’s expansion into China and other parts of Southeast Asia, leading to a blockade from the United States and other Western nations. That blockade threatened Japan’s ability to expand, especially when oil started running low. As a result, Japan decided to lash out and neutralize the US Pacific Fleet. Their plan was a simultaneous attack on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, and other ports and fleets around their area of influence.
In essence, Pearl Harbor was more complex than just that attack on that day and the ensuing entry of the United States into World War II. If anything, US entry into the war was only accelerated. War between Japan and the US would have probably happened anyway.
The wisdom of my history teacher in teaching us the background as well as the effects of Pearl Harbor was not lost on me. I learned to see world events in a more critical light. From September 11 to the recent shootings in Santa Barbara, California, events that lead us to war don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s always a cause and effect for world events, and a cause for the cause… And a cause for the cause of the cause, etcetera.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were about 4 million live births in the United States in 2001. By 2019, those children will be old enough to vote. This means that there will be 4 million new voters who are not old enough to remember the terrorist attacks on New York City that happened on September 11, 2001. (Those 4 million don’t include the ones born right before who were not old enough to fully comprehend what has happening that day.)
In essence, in a few years’ time, there will be millions who will have a say in how things are run in this country for whom 9/11 will be a thing of history. Heck, a good bunch of them will have parents who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Everything that happened during the Bush Jr. Administration will be abstract and told to them through the prism of whatever school system they go to.
Not that this is scary in any way. It’s interesting, and I look forward to it, because several things can happen. First, they can vote with an open mind because they’re not swayed by emotion. They don’t feel the deep sense of panic, fear and uncertainty that so many of us felt that day. Hopefully, most of them will think critically about the causes and effects of September 11. Or, second, they will be indoctrinated into the thinking of their parents or schools into what happened on that day and what happened as a result of it. (What led up to it is still veiled in political shadows.)
What this should remind us is that we have a responsibility to keep as accurate an account of what is going on in the world so that the younger generations can make the best decisions possible, or at least the best informed decisions. We cannot just tell the story of what happened on September 11, 2001, without telling the story of American incursions and interventions in the Middle East. And so on and so forth.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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