September 11: Not Just a Memorial

People walk past the construction site of the One World Trade Center in New York on October 17, 2014. US spending on construction slowed in August 2014, with declines in both the private and public sectors, the Commerce Department reported. Total construction spending fell 0.8 percent from July to an annual rate of $961.0 billion, but year-over-year was up 5.0 percent. The July figure was revised sharply lower to $968.8 billion from the prior estimate of $981.0 billion. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
One World Trade Center in New York on October 17, 2014. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images) (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

We walked through the 9/11 Memorial fountains with a friend one recent, sunny Sunday. Our friend recalled that she had lived in Chelsea in 2001, and on that September 11 morning she had just put her children on the school bus; it was the younger boy’s second day at his new school in Brooklyn. The bus route took them through the World Trade Center site and into the Hugh L. Carey—just 20 minutes before the first plane hit the North Tower.

Now, 14 years later, as we reached the western wall of the northern fountain, our friend began to cry. She was moved by the solemnity of the site and by its immensity. She read some of the nearly 3,000 names inscribed in the black granite.

Her children had grown up in a city scarred by an event that was at once abstract and very real: unable to return to Manhattan after the attack, they were housed temporarily with a Brooklyn family they met for the first time that day. Later, the school would build a memorial to the 11 parents and graduates who died that morning.

The people who visit the 9/11 Memorial will have no doubt that the values and opportunities practiced here—even with their flaws—are still the best hope in the world.

Over the years, the children in that school tried very hard to comprehend what had happened and why. That task has not been easy, given the foolishness, treachery and partisanship that have tainted the discussion. Two recent examples capture how the discourse has been distorted.

The first occurred Friday night during the usually civil PBS Newshour. Judy Woodruff was discussing the refugee crisis with commentators Mark Shields and Michael Gerson when Mr. Shields—a former Democratic campaign operative—blamed the crisis on the Bush administration. We had toppled Saddam Hussein the “most formidable adversary” that Iran and ISIS had. He then took an ad hominem swipe at Dick Cheney. It was an embarrassing yet telling attack.

Mr. Shields conveniently forgets that the first congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force against the terrorists passed on September 14, 2001, by a vote of 420 to 1 in the House, and 98 to 0 in the Senate. The vote for the Iraq war resolution a year later, passed the Senate 77 to 23. Among those in support were Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden. So was the editorial board of The New York Times.

The second example of trying to rewrite history is occurring on college campuses. Neel Ahuja, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is teaching a course—adopted on other campuses including the University of Maryland—called Literature of 9/11. Essentially it argues that “al Qaeda terrorists are the real victims. Abu Zubaydah’s torture may be interpreted as simply one more example of the necropower of U.S. imperialism, the power to coerce and kill targeted populations.” The course does not include any readings written from the perspective of American decision makers, first responders, or scholars of radical Islam. And student reviews of the professor warn students considering taking the course that they must not disagree with Mr. Ahuja if they want to pass the course.

We suspect it is courses like this that academics are thinking about when they argue for the continuation of a tenure system that “protects academic freedom.” But we worry for our children whose formative minds are more likely to be exposed to Mr. Ahuja’s self-described “anti-colonialist” drivel—pardon us, perspective—than the origins of the United States Constitution.

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a solemn moment in New York City and elsewhere in the United States. That its origins should be so distorted by academics and yet protected by the democratic values so feared by the perpetrators of the attacks is wonderfully ironic. Mr. Ahuja will continue to spew his angry view of America, and Mr. Shields will spin his history of events in the hope of a partisan point. But the people who visit the 9/11 Memorial will have no doubt that the values and opportunities practiced here—even with their flaws—are still the best hope in the world. September 11: Not Just a Memorial