History is littered with tragedy. No matter when or where it occurs, tears are shed. Our grandparents cried when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Our parents cried when President John F. Kennedy was shot. We cried on Sept. 11.

Today's college students have never completely understood the magnitude of their parents' and grandparents' tragedies. They were merely chapters in the history books.

Ball State President Blaine Brownell, a historian, expects the same will hold true for the next generation when they learn about Sept. 11.

"Any event like this will seem, to us, to have a greater magnitude," Brownell said.

He expects Sept. 11 will become the defining event of this decade, but the same could be said for Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam war. No matter how much tomorrow's children are taught about the importance of this date, can anyone ever teach its importance to someone who wasn't there and didn't have the opportunity to live in a world that was, by all accounts, so Sept. 10.

Or will it simply be a chapter in their history books?

Students agree and realize it's true. Freshman Ryan Billingsley, said that it's still fresh in his mind, but that won't always be the case.

"We've triumphed past it," Billingsley said. "We need to get on with things."

But moving on can be hard to do, and the Sept. 11 chapter is still being written. The physical debris has been cleared away since May, but the shockwaves were still felt. The resulting actions of one day continue to play out before us in the form of legislation, debates over the War on Terrorism and how to memorialize the worst terrorist act on American soil.

Meanwhile, historians such as Brownell and Kevin Smith, acting chair of the Department of History, try to help the public learn from Sept. 11. Smith spoke in Carmel Tuesday about the analogies pointed out between events like Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor.

"I don't think there is a real analogy to 9/11," Smith said. "It is an event that does not have a good parallel."

The absence of that analogy puts a limit on the amount we can learn from it, Smith said. But he still encourages people to sit back and think about what might have provoked last year's attack.

"Nothing can justify what happened," Smith said. "(But) we have done some things wrong."

In reflecting on Sept. 11, Smith suggests asking not, "How dare they?" but, "Did we do something to deserve this?" He is by no means asking America to give up on the fundamental freedoms of this country - which is part of what provoked the attack - but he suggests that perhaps foreign policy should be examined.

"I'm trying to steer a middle ground," Smith said.

In a historical context, both Smith and Brownell point out parallels that do make Sept. 11 somewhat analogous to other events in American history. President Abraham Lincoln restricted the Writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War. President Franklin D. Roosevelt detained Japanese-Americans during World War II. Brownell believes The Patriot Act, a piece of legislation dealing with civil rights passed last October, may be scrutinized in the future the way Lincoln's and Roosevelt's actions were.

They also point out the current debate over war with Iraq and whether or not Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has ties to the same people who attacked our nation one year ago. White House lawyers claim the president has the right to attack Iraq based on post-Sept. 11 legislation.

"We haven't reached closure yet," Brownell said. "We're still trying to come to terms."

Despite Sept. 11's fate in the history books, the month of September may be remembered as the bloodiest month in American history. On Sept. 17, 1862, 6,300 to 6,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and mortally wounded during the Civil War's Battle of Antietam. Another 15,000 were wounded. More Americans died during that battle than died in combat in all previous wars fought by United States.

But a year ago, it wasn't the Battle of Antietam that popped into our minds. Most of us reflected on the crises of the 20th century: the crises that still remain fresh in America's memory, the crises people are still alive to talk about.

If it seems hard to fathom the idea of Sept. 11 being filed away with the rest of history, it is simply because it is still on our minds. We haven't been given a single day to forget. Really, it's too early to tell how history will remember Sept. 11.

But educators and historians will study it. They will try and extract lessons and learn from it.

And they will continue to to try to make sense of a senseless act.


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