On a mid-July day in 1939, Albert Einstein, still in his slippers, opened the door of his summer cottage in Peconic on the fishtail end of Long Island. There stood his former student and onetime partner in an electromagnetic refrigerator pump, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, and next to him a fellow Hungarian (and fellow physicist), Eugene Wigner. The two had not come to Long Island for a day at the beach with the most famous scientist in the world but on an urgent mission.
As we remember the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, we should also not forget that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of another tragic episode: this country’s Civil War that left more than 600,000 dead in its wake.
A torrent of controversy has in fact arisen alongside the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, the most prevalent being debates over the war’s causation.
“How tall is too tall, how safe is safe enough? Before September 11, Americans thought little about such questions. And then the most extraordinary buildings in New York City burned and collapsed in front of a worldwide audience.”
Sometimes when historians disagree there are fundamental issues at stake; sometimes differences of interpretation. Often the evidence is still being gathered, so any interpretation is open to revision. From a historical point of view, ten years is not a very long time, yet it is time enough to begin trying to explain the consequences of a major event like the attacks of September 11.
The city upon the hill that Winthrop sought to create in New England is a different world from that of his alleged ideological heirs. For Winthrop, the stakes of getting the city right were high (and they continue to be). To build a lasting “city upon the hill” the Puritans needed to create a society held together by charity, mercy, and love.
In 2001, I was a junior at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City. On the morning of September 11th, I was sitting in my second period AP US History class, taught by Dr. Melvin Maskin. On days when he was feeling particularly enthusiastic about a lesson, he’d scrawl things like, “The Doc is IN DA HOUSE” on the blackboard. He was always doing things like that: making silly jokes or referencing song lyrics in tests, to get us excited about settling in for a class period of history.
This week we will use the blog at Not Even Past to talk about the 9/11/01 attacks, their history and their legacy. We begin with an essay by Rachel Herrmann.