Regarding the Sept. 20 Point of View “Distorting the study of 9/11 at UNC” by UNC professor Neel Ajuha: The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation recently brought its “9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit,” filled with World Trade Center artifacts and information on the attacks, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Tunnel to Towers created this museum for Americans who will never have the opportunity to visit Ground Zero. The day our exhibit was unveiled in Fayetteville in 2013, an 11-year-old girl whose father was fighting in Afghanistan told her mother when she exited the exhibit that for the first time she understood why her father was in Afghanistan.
If a young person whose own military father was fighting in Afghanistan does not understand what happened on 9/11, what chance is there that her contemporaries do?
In his Point of View, Ajuha he maintained, “To ask critical questions about the legacies of mass atrocity is our collective responsibility. If we don’t answer that call, there will be no possibility of moving beyond the acts of retribution, hatred and fear that continue to remake today’s world in the image of Manhattan’s rubble.”
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His course is taught to freshmen who are far too young to understand what that day meant. The professor demands we ask critical questions about the legacy of 9/11 but fails to ask himself: Is the legacy of 9/11 retribution, hatred and fear? Because the people who were actually there live a different legacy.
Like many families, Stephen Siller’s family did not have to wait to be instructed by Ahuja what perspectives they needed to ponder following 9/11 lest they find themselves in a dismal abyss and doomed to never be able to move past anger and feelings of retaliation. When Stephen’s body was not recovered, his family and his firefighting brethren laid him to rest in a funeral ceremony that began with the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin With Me.”
The professor’s course is named “Literature of 9/11.” Is it so unreasonable to think that it should include at least some offerings told from the perspective of the actual victims? How about “Unmeasured Strength” by Lauren Manning, who was in the North Tower and sustained burns over 80 percent of her body? Is her story not relevant literature of 9/11?
As an American, Ajuha has a right to his own views, but he lacks the right to impose them on the next generation of young Americans. Stephen’s six brothers and sisters took the darkest moment of their lives and the darkest moment in America history and brought forth kindness, support and caring. By no means do we ask Ajuha to stop teaching his course. We only ask that he see how so many actual victims that day found hope, love and peace in Manhattan’s rubble, not retribution, hatred or fear.
COO, Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation
Staten Island, N.Y.
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.