What is better in dealing with terror? To remember or To forget

A lot of people I met or spoke to on Sunday 9/11 told me exactly where they were and what they were doing when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers 10 years back. I too remember what I was doing at that time. I don’t know why people remember that, but this was one of those events that I classify as “Do you remember?” events.

For example, a lot of people in the United Stated also remember what they were doing when Kennedy was shot.

I, for one, remember being woken up close to the middle of the night when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. My South Indian friend Swami remembers exactly what he was doing when Indira Gandhi was killed.

There are a few happy moments too. Like many Indians remember where they were when Mohinder Amarnath trapped Holding leg before and took India to World Cup victory in 1983. Similarly even 20 years from now, those who saw the six that Dhoni hit to give us the World Cup in 2011 will remember where they were then.

I used to have distinct memories of where I was and what I was doing in the month or so of the Mumbai riots of Dec-Jan 1992-93, and I also used to remember what I was doing when the Mumbai blasts that happened after that in 1993. That in some sense was India’s 9/11. At that time those were genuinely significant events. Now after so many blasts and riots, it is a bit confusing. Like 9/11, we have started naming them 7/11 and 26/11, may be we will have more. Not quite sure whether to remember or forget.

That gets me back to 9/11. Americans chose to remember it. Perhaps because it was the only major terrorist attack on their soil, and they did not quite understand how to handle it. It is not 9/11 the event itself, but remembering 9/11 that actually caused harm to the US, I think. That led to Americans living in constant fear, whereas actually they were still living in one of the safest countries in the world. That led to the pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and led to a total disproportionate increase in defense spending – thinking that these measures will help prevent further attacks. That also led to racial profiling. Americans started thinking of every minor thing in terms of a terror attack.

Of course, there were no further attacks, but that was because the US was always difficult to attack. Before or after 9/11, it was always difficult to attack the US, specially at that scale. 9/11 was an exception. So while it was a “Do you remember?” event, the world and the US would, perhaps, have been better off if the US had forgotten about it over time.

In the 10 years after that, while nothing of anything close to that scale happened in the US, 38 blasts of some kind happened in India. And we are not counting the ones before 2001. The ones between the original Mumbai blasts and the Twin Tower attacks. I am sure the total will exceed 50 at least. And Indians chose to forget those blasts, more or less.

Hence, we did not have citizens living in fear (in fact life resumed in most cases in a day), perhaps there were other things to be afraid of. Nor did we have increase in defense spend, perhaps there were other things to spend on. While we reached close to war once (in 1999 after the nuclear tests), we did not have a war due to this – apparently we could not afford a war. But the attacks continued, spurring us on. In trains, in buses, in markets wherever. We chose to forget the attacks, and good harmless people continued to die. Eventually we were told to live with it as we were in a troubled neighbourhood. And we started thinking of even major blasts like road accidents. They happen.

So the US had one 9/11 and major wars after that, huge defense spends leading mostly nowhere. But they had no other attacks after that. And India had 50+ attacks, no wars, even arrests of the terrorists in some cases, but still leading more or less nowhere. But the attacks continued.

Our responses to “Do you remember?” events have been different. India’s approach has been to forget, while the US approach has been to remember. I am not sure which is better eventually.

2 Responses to What is better in dealing with terror? To remember or To forget

  1. Nice article…will give more feedback when we meet..

  2. Ranjit Kulkarni says:

    thank you for the feedback

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