How Long Until We Learn? 12 Years? 20 Years? Never?

“Does everyone understand?” the professor asked.  She just finished explaining a nuance regarding citations in academic writing.  “Once more then, common knowledge doesn’t need to be cited, but other than that, it’s best to cite the source of your material.  For example, that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December…9th..?”  Snickers from the class.  “…was it the 9th?” she begged for help.

“7th,” he spoke up.  “December 7th.”

“That’s right, thank you.  Now you all know that I don’t ‘do’ dates very well,” she joked.

“And that you don’t love your country,” he remarked half-joking, but seeking a status increase in his classmate’s eyes as well.

“Haha.  Yes, apparently that too,” she laughed, genuinely appreciating the comment.

His helmet on and secure, he slowly backed the motorcycle out of its parking spot as he prepared to head home from class.  Recognizing that a motorcyclist’s every movement is exposed, he concentrated on making his scan for obstacles look as cool as possible.

Finally, he was on the road.  Warm air, no seat belt; he was one with the machine.  “This will never get old,” he thought to himself.  Seeing brake lights in front of him he looked up to see yellow become red.  Downshifting, he slowed to a stop.  The car in front of him had a sticker that caught his attention.  It simply read, “9-11-01.”  He couldn’t place the date.  Adam and Eve themselves couldn’t describe the shame he felt as he realized his mistake.  How many times did it have to happen until he learned that pride comes before the fall?  Less than 10 minutes after enjoying a good laugh at the professors expense for not remembering the date Pearl Harbor was attacked, he didn’t recognize a sticker whose purpose was to help us never forget the events of September 11, 2001.

Frustrated he rode the rest of the way home analyzing how this could have happened.  Suddenly, an interesting thought: “Wow.  It has been 12 years.  I wonder how everyone felt in 1953 about Pearl Harbor, compared to how we feel now about 9/11.  I always hear about how great the 50s were…  Will people in 2073 look back and romanticize this decade too?”  It seemed unlikely.


Insecurity.  Individuals feel it, nations feel it.  In either case, it is a problem that should be stomped out as ferociously as possible.  The attack on 9/11 spoke to life’s uncertainty.  How long are we going to pretend that this was new information?  No living thing is free from a risk of dying.  Why are we still insecure?

Given the occasion to ‘get the jump’ on the yearly discussion, I don’t mind taking the first stab.  We’re still insecure because we don’t understand where security comes from.

Here’s the situation as I see it:  After taking until the mid-1980s to repress Vietnam’s memory, we built a military of overwhelming strength.  The end of the 80s saw the end of The Cold War.  Less than a few years later, we literally obliterated Iraq’s military during Gulf War One.  (Our pilots were shooting down Iraqi pilots before they could retract their landing gear on takeoff.)  This victory made it impossible to resist feeling invulnerable.

The trouble, however, was that the “we” that became invulnerable included the greatest generation.  By 9/11, “we” no longer included the greatest generation or their experience-based (vs secondhand) knowledge and wisdom.  What did they know that would have helped us?  What might we have learned from existing with them, rather than reading about them?  What information do we need to internalize so we can rid ourselves of the wasting disease called insecurity?

Security comes from within.

It won’t come from Obama.  It wouldn’t have come from Romney.  It won’t come from Clinton or Christie.

Whether Hippocrates ever intended his paraphrased oath to be applied by everyone is inconsequential.  “Do no knowing harm.”  That goes for everyone.  All the time.  Whether at work or at play.  In your personal life, in your professional life.

Is life complicated?  Yes.  Has our government acted honorably all the time?  No.  Do people capitalize on every opportunity to take advantage of each other?  Yes.  These questions and answers do not paint a pretty picture.  So what.  Not one of them has any bearing on the decision you are about to make right now.

The only way to overcome this problem is to stop doing knowing harm.  Today.  No matter who is telling you, “It’s okay.”  Whatever consequence you fear will happen if you disobey, you must risk it.  Past mistakes are irrelevant.  The rest of the planet is longing for Americans to wisely use the power we hold.  You know what I’m talking about.  You can’t feign ignorance any longer.

I need your help.  The only way to get there is together.


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