Starting 15 years ago, Americans have annually taken pause to recognize the tragic events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. The words “Never Forget 9/11” are often spoken and written, more frequently as summer turns to fall.
America has certainly not forgotten the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. The 2,983 names of those killed in both the 2001 and 1993 attacks are engraved in bronze parapets surrounding reflecting pools that once were the foundation of the Twin Towers.
Even on campus, 9/11 is remembered in various fashions. This year, the leaders of College Republicans and College Democrats, Alex Walker and Augie McGinnity-Wake, set up 3,000 flags on Bascom Hill to commemorate the victims.
While time has not allowed for Americans to forget the event, it has put distance between Americans and the fear that immediately followed the event. The images of billowing smoke from New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania have not faded for most, according to UW-Madison journalism professor Kathleen Culver .
Culver earned her doctorate at UW-Madison in 1999 and was interviewing a job candidate for the journalism school when she was told that a plane had crashed into one of the towers.
“You certainly did feel a lot of risk,” she said. “It was a really crisp fall day. That day was gorgeous in Madison, the sky was brilliant blue. Every fall there will still be times when I look out and the light is exactly the same.”
But the paralyzing fear of the unknown that gripped the U.S. has been distanced. Unlike older adults, most current undergraduates at UW-Madison are unlikely to remember that exact day because they were three - six years old. And even if they can remember some detail from that day, most never knew the fear of not knowing what was next for America.
The internet, and its powerful servers moving 1.1 zettabytes of traffic per year, however, has not distanced at all from 2001.
Through the Internet Archive, a nonprofit with the goal of creating an “Internet Library,” users are able to access live versions of documented webpages from as far back as 1996 for some websites.
Among the websites archived is www.wisc.edu in October and November, 2001. The 2001 wisc.edu looked much different than it does today, with a 1990’s feel that would be hard to read by today’s standards.
The expected links cover the homepage—“about uw-madison,” “admissions,” “academics & research,” among others in a trendy 2001 font and all lower case.
A hyper link on the top left corner of the page that reads, “Sept. 11 and Beyond… Response & Resources” erases all the distance which has been made by the past year from the fear of the unknown.
Halfway down the page, the subhead “Preparedness Information” reads, “For information about efforts to protect the state and university from terrorism threats, visit the Governor's Task Force on Terrorism Preparedness, where you'll find mail handling tips, links to emergency management and helping agencies, and answers to frequently asked questions.”
Under it are various links to websites such as the ABCs of Anthrax and Questions and Answers to Bioterrorism.
University Health Services featured a full page of FAQs following the attacks. They included “Is it safe for me to drink water from the tap?” “Should I have my own supply of antibiotics?” and “Should I buy a gas mask?”
The answer to the last question, according to the 2001 UHS website, was not because a gas attack would likely be a surprise and one would not have enough time to put the mask on.
“A mask would only protect you if you were wearing it at the exact moment a bioterrorist attack occurred,” the website said. “Unfortunately, a release of a biological agent is most likely to be done 'covertly,' that is, without anyone knowing it.”
UWPD also offered “frontline awareness training” to all university staff. The training covered “suggested mail handling procedures, how to deal with bomb threats, and tips for dealing with agitated persons.”
Toward the top of the page, under “Latest Updates,” there is a post from Oct. 18, 2001, on the campus’s updated security plan in the wake of the event. The very next day, then-Chancellor John Wiley released a statement on reporting incidents of harassment based on ethnicity or religious affiliation.
“I think the campus did a very good job trying to help students cope,” Culver said. “There was a lot of concern about how this would result in making the climate very uncomfortable for Muslim students and how we address bias. It was a very scary time to be in the United States as a person who observes that faith, and unfortunately I think it still is.”
Fifteen years have not, however, distanced Americans from the outpouring of support from across the country.
The university, in conjunction with the Dane County Board of Supervisors, also held A Program for Reflection and Remembrance Sept. 14, 2001.
"Remember that we are a community, united by loss, by strength, by our condemnation of hatred and violence, and by our hope and desire to see a better day,” interim Provost Gary Sandefur said to the crowd.
Although most UW students today cannot remember the entirety of 9/11, they still are tangentially related to the 2001 wisc.edu. One link on the page from UW-Extension was titled, “Helping our children respond to televised horrors.” Current UW-Madison undergraduate students are among the children referenced in the article.
“Here is the most useful thing psychology can tell us: Children do not have an automatic fear response to these news reports. They look primarily to the adults around them for cues on which emotional response to adopt,” UW-Madison human ecology professor Dave Riley wrote.
Culver had students write what they were feeling on the back of quizzes the following Monday. Most of the messages were filled with grieving, she said.
“A couple of years later I went back and reread them again, and I think I read them on the 10th anniversary. And as I just moved my office, I just got rid of them,” she said. “And that’s the distance. I remember feeling like nothing would ever be the same again, and now it is. The world feels a lot like it did on September 10th.”