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The eleventh of September

This date will live in infamy.

12/7 — Pearl Harbor Day. The Imperial Japanese Navy carries out a surprise attack on an American naval base in Pearl Harbor.

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6/6 — “D-Day.” Allied forces land in Normandy and begin an invasion of occupied France.

7/4 — Independence Day. The North American colonies declare independence from Great Britain.

9/11 — Al-Qaida terrorists fly planes into targets in New York and Washington, D.C.

Today is the 11th of September. We call it Sept. 11, or 9/11.

It was the 11th of September when a boy in my fifth grade history class pointed out the window at downtown Manhattan and shouted that one of the twin towers was on fire. It was 9/11 when we saw a second plane fly into the other tower.

It was 9/11 then, it was 9/11 two hours later when the towers had collapsed, and it was 9/11 that evening, as a dense layer of ash began to settle on the city. It has been 9/11 ever since.

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Not on the 12th of September, but on the day after 9/11, we called relatives and friends who worked downtown and in the towers. On the day after 9/11, families gathered hesitantly on the promenade to look at the unfamiliar Manhattan skyline. On the day after 9/11, we picked up the burnt handwritten notes and papers that, in the great force of the collapse, had blown from the towers over the river and landed on our street.

In the weeks following 9/11, firefighters, police officers and EMS workers dug through the rubble to find the people trapped inside.In these weeks, we decked our firehouses in purple and could smell the destruction — like mud, a burnt-out hairdryer and the inside of a car that’s been in the sun all day. I’m not sure how many weeks it took for the smell to go away.

Ten years later, we have lived through the “9/11 Decade” in the “Post-9/11 World,” and in 10 years, we have not come up with a name for that day. We refer to it by the date alone.

We can’t name it after the location, like Pearl Harbor Day, because 9/11 did not occur in one place. There is no military term like D-Day to adopt, because there was no military operation. The great multitude of heroes makes it impossible to single out any one hero, like Martin Luther King Day. We can’t even name it after what took place — that name was taken in 1993. These means of naming are not adequate for this kind of event.

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As my fifth grade history class stood watching the twin towers burn, we were unable to conceive of the influence that the day would have upon us, a generation whose political consciousness has been defined by 9/11.Countless 9/11 retrospectives outline how the events have changed not only American politics and society, but also the international arena on whole. Books will certainly be written on this topic for a hundred years and, frankly, I do not have the authority to address any of these issues. I cannot even list all of the fields and groups of people affected. No one can.

This broadness is exactly why we should continue to refer to the day as 9/11. Terror, tragedy and political upheaval existed before 9/11. Likewise, other cities have witnessed horrors, and the foreign policy of other countries has also dramatically affected the world.

9/11’s impact is unique because it means so many different things for different people; it is at once ubiquitous and varied. 9/11 is the day New Yorkers witnessed a massacre of friends, neighbors and coworkers. For a friend in North Carolina, it is the day he was inspired to enlist. For military leaders, it is the day that redefined warfare. For people around the world, it is the day the international arena changed forever.

“9/11” best describes these events for a simple and logistical reason — international acceptance of the Gregorian calendar. 9/11 means something very personal to me: the death of a family friend and the destruction of my city and my mother’s former place of work. It means something very different, something to do with world history and international relations, to a girl my age in China. But it is 9/11 for both of us.

In short, “9/11” is succinct and all-encompassing. In New York, we have two equally succinct and powerful phrases with which I would like to conclude:

Stand tall — we will never forget.

Monica Greco is a junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. She can be reached at mgreco@princeton.edu.

For more coverage commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, please click here.

 

 

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