A Duke University study suggests that "flashbulb memories" of tragic events - those memories where one feels like they remember an event in vivid detail in a way that seems "burned" into their mind - are often inaccurate or even wrong. This is of particular interest as we come up on the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a time sure to bring out recollections of that day.
In their study, Jennifer Talarico and David Rubin gave people a questionnaire on Sept. 12, 2001, asking respondents to write down details about their 9/11 memories, and of some other unremarkable event a day earlier. For the year following 9/11/01, the researchers followed up with the respondents at regular intervals.
The memories of their 9/11 experience were no more clear or accurate than of the unremarkable event that took place on 9/10/11. In many cases, they remembered details that didn't happen, or missed what would be considered major components of their original memories.
Should I be worried my memory of that day may also be way off?
About 10 years ago, on that mid-September Tuesday, I was sitting in Mr. Palmisano's second-period psychology class as a senior at Northampton High School.
It was between 9 and 10 in the morning. The class troublemaker returned from a trip to the bathroom, or the hallway, or wherever it was that he went, and interrupted Mr. Palmisano mid-sentence, saying that - I'm paraphrasing here - it's World War III, the country is under attack, and that we need to find out what's going on. Irritated and upset that his teaching had been disturbed, Mr. Palmisano told the student to get back in his seat, and that everything is surely fine.
During the break between second and third period, it became clear something was actually happening, and I decided to skip out on my next class and drive home, where I spent the rest of the morning watching news on television. The next day, Mr. Palmisano spoke briefly about his reaction the day before, saying he had been incorrect when he didn't believe our classmate's story, and that he was sure we would all remember exactly where we were when we heard about the attacks of that day. He was right. He also said we'd never forget the name of the student who told us - at least with me, he was wrong.
In preparation for our coverage of the anniversary on "The David Pakman Show," I've gone over what has transpired politically, economically and culturally since that day and conducted a number of interviews on the subject. My guests all brought different angles to our retrospective of the events a decade ago.
In speaking with them and our production staff, and with many others, some issues seem more important than others to discuss going forward.
I'm particularly interested in how neoconservative forces and politicians successfully used 9/11 to justify geopolitical, economic and law enforcement initiatives, many of which served the military-industrial complex within which war, defense spending, weapons, violence and inevitable death are simply a business line item.
Not considered are the realities of relationships among the world's nations or the true interests of the people living in those countries.
I am still disturbed by the 2003 study by PIPA & Knowledge Networks which confirmed that the factually inaccurate but common belief that the attacks of 9/11 were connected to Saddam Hussein and Iraq was very likely to influence individuals to support an invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was not a mistake, a coincidence, or an unplanned side effect of the propaganda and misinformation campaign.
We also shouldn't forget the surveillance methods and chipping away at civil liberties that have been unilaterally imposed on us under the guise of a "post 9/11 world" and the "global war on terror." They warrant more discussion than I could fit into a year's worth of opinion pieces.
Maybe more important than remembering where we were on the day of the attacks, and the names of the people who first told us something had happened, is thinking about how 9/11 was used by those who, even before the attacks, had plans for the direction they wanted to take the United States.
David Pakman of Northampton, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.