Twenty years after 9/11, magicians of history transform truth and fiction right in front of our eyes

Every report, every true fact, is challenged by someone. Conspiracy theories abound.

SHARE Twenty years after 9/11, magicians of history transform truth and fiction right in front of our eyes

Two columns of light representing the fallen towers of the World Trade Center shine on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks,

AP Photos

Remember Pearl Harbor? D-Day? September 11? January 6?

Hell, remember the Alamo?

Our collective memory is nearly as bad as that of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Things that once seemed clear are so quickly distorted by the fog of time.

History changes. Sometimes right in front of your eyes.

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I thought the events of Jan. 6, when hundreds of people stormed the U.S. Capitol, attacked police officers, smashed windows, crashed through locked doors and charged into the hallways to overturn a presidential election would never be forgotten.

Seemed like an insurrection to me.

Now, Republicans say it was just a peaceful gathering of tourists. They see no reason to look into the origins of the events of that day.

As for the attack on Sept. 11, the Taliban are back in charge and Americans argue about why we invaded, what we accomplished and whether 20 years of military occupation was sufficient to get the job done. As for what is meant by “the job,” that seems to depend on the recollections of people with fragile memories.

We haven’t forgotten our dead. We honor those killed on Sept. 11, and we shed tears for our troops who died fighting since then. We pledge we will never let anything like that happen again.

But we no longer trust the FBI, the CIA or government leaders. Every report, every conclusion, every word uttered during a congressional hearing is challenged by someone. Conspiracy theories abound.

Domestic terrorists are a greater threat than those in the Middle East now, say some experts, yet our countrymen refuse to believe it. It’s propaganda. Fake news.

Our nation has changed almost beyond recognition in 20 years.

We invaded Iraq back then because Americans were told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and terrorists inside the country were plotting to attack us.

The weapons of mass destruction were never found, and the CIA concluded that the terrorists in Iraq did not exist until after the U.S. overthrew Saddam. Maybe the CIA is lying.

We moved on to other things. ISIS threatened nations throughout the Middle East. Iran stepped up its nuclear program. The Russians moved troops into Syria to bolster that nation’s murderous dictatorship.

How is it possible to remember the history of Iraq with all of that going on?

Americans were once united behind their government. I think that was true in 2001.

So many things I once thought I knew have changed with the passage of time. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America. I had to memorize the date for history tests in grammar school. That’s how important it was.

Now we are told Columbus didn’t discover America, the Vikings did. Only, some scholars say the Americas may have been visited by people from China and maybe even Africa and long before that. As for Native Americans, who knows where they came from before they were discovered and murdered.

I remember things that are no longer true.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I went to Midway Airport and encountered a woman whose husband had been on a United Airlines flight out of Boston. Flight 175. You may remember it. Flight 175 was headed to California when it was hijacked by five al-Qaeda terrorists. It crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and that was televised around the world.

People started leaping to their deaths.

But the woman I spoke with at Midway Airport didn’t know any of this. Her name was Ellen Mariani and a stranger carrying a reporter’s notebook told her that she was now a widow.

I remember the look on her face. But no one else ever will. She was alone at the time and so that piece of history will be gone when I am.

All of my life I have heard people say they will never forget, and the awful truth is they do. Worse, they sometimes remember things that never happened. That is a fact.

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