Remembering 9/11 or Not?

Family Security MattersTom McLaughlin

For eight years, I’ve started the school year asking my eighth graders where they were when they first heard about the tragic events of September 11, 2001, but I didn’t do that when school started last week for two reasons:

First, this year’s students were pre-schoolers when the twin towers were hit - they were four years old. Some may have noticed the adults around them becoming upset, but it’s not likely they would have had much understanding of why. For them, September 11, 2001 isn’t the burned-in emotional experience it has been for students who are now college age. For most in kindergarten through twelfth grade, September 11th isn’t that big a deal. Unless they sat through my class, or had a teacher like me somewhere else, my guess is that few would be able to identify who our enemies are and why they want to kill us.

Second, media coverage of September 11th has diminished each year to the point where it doesn’t make sense to continue. We no longer have saturation coverage in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. Last year there was so little so I decided to abandon my ritual. Later this year, I’ll still deliver my lessons about our enemies being followers of Radical Islam, but not in September unless something else happens to capture the media’s attention.

This year will be different in one other very important way: what I teach will be in direct conflict with what our commander-in-chief - our president - apparently believes, or says he does at least, about who we’re fighting. I’m quite mindful of this and it greatly disturbs me. I’ve had to question myself because I’m an ordinary public school history teacher and he’s the leader of the free world who hears daily intelligence briefings from expert advisors. However, according to Raymond Ibrahim, writing in The Middle East Forum on April 9th of this year:

The Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all words that allude to Islam from important national security documents. Put differently, the Obama administration has just announced its intent to ban all knowledge and context necessary to confront and defeat radical Islam.

I’ll have to point this out to my students. I’ll have to explain to them that the experts now running our war do not see our enemies as I do. Last month, the Pentagon issued its report on the Fort Hood massacre in which Major Nidal Hasan murdered thirteen fellow American soldiers and wounded thirty-one others while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” which is what our enemies do just before they destroy themselves to kill infidels like us. There was no mention, however, of his radical Islamist beliefs in the report. The massacre was described as “workplace violence” and not motivated by his infection with the wacky jihadist ideas of our enemies, though it clearly was.

For more than nine years, I’ve been helping my students understand that their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fighting Radical Islam. When my principal poked his head into my classroom at about 9:15 AM on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I had just written “jihad” on the blackboard and was explaining how it was understood by two Radical Islamists who had just killed or wounded dozens of Israelis by blowing themselves up on September 9th. When he told me what happened that morning in New York City, I knew right away who was behind it.

One of the reasons I became a teacher was that I wanted to do a better job than my teachers had done for me and my peers back in the 1960s. I went to high school between 1965 and 1969 when graduates who didn’t go to college were drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. None of my teachers, however, were covering the war in class. Graduates (and dropouts) were heading to southeast Asia with very little idea of what that war was about. I was determined to do a better job.

As a US History teacher with responsibility to teach current events, it’s been my job to understand the conflicts in which our country is engaged - and I’ve studied them intensely. That my teaching is now at odds with both the president and the Pentagon makes me very uneasy, but I’ll continue to teach what I believe to be the truth until someone can show me how President Obama and his Pentagon advisors are right and I am wrong. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam. E-mail him at