Are those who cannot remember the past truly condemned to repeat it?

Throughout life, there are many instances in which we remember things – intentionally and unintentionally – that we have been exposed to at some point in the past. Whether the experience occurred ten hours ago or even ten years ago, the simple act of remembering helps to shape our actions and decisions in the future. But what happens when we can no longer remember? Should we even allow ourselves to get to a point where the only thing left for us to do is forget? Rieff feels that this phenomenon is inevitable. In his opinion, as much as we try to hold onto the past, memories will eventually fade.

In the case of 9/11, most New Yorkers will agree that they will never forget about what happened on that sunny Tuesday morning. It is because of that tragedy that security has become stricter in airports, racial tensions have increased, and a great wave of patriotism has resurfaced among Americans. How could an event that produced such effects and changed the lives of millions simply be forgotten? In his essay, Rieff mentions a quote from George Santayana that states, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we are doomed to a future where no one understands what it is like to see our nation at its most vulnerable, I believe that it is possible that the national security could again be threatened. If what Rieff is saying is valid, and 9/11 will indeed eventually be forgotten like Pearl Harbor in this generation, then individuals in the future will lead normal lives, security may go back to the way it was before the Twin Towers came down, and no one would even entertain the idea of something like that happening again. Take Pearl Harbor, for example. The idea that tomorrow the Japanese could bomb Hawaii does not make sense to any of us. All of what we know about the 1940’s is what we’ve heard from history textbooks and our ancestors. The same is true, I believe, for 9/11 and the future American citizens.

It is of paramount importance that we continue to remember by participating in memorials, sharing our experiences with each other, and keeping the spirit of America alive. This sense of community and togetherness brought about by something as terrible as 9/11 is what makes so unsusceptible to the enemy. It is what builds an impenetrable wall of safety around the U.S. We cannot forget, because although Rieff believes that to remember is to harbor vengeance and anger, to remember is also to remain strong and unified. And that is what being an American is all about.