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Opinion

Terrorist attacks in Paris brings back 9/11 memories

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November 18, 2015

As you probably all have heard at this point, there was a terrorist attack on Paris over the weekend in which gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a concert hall, a major stadium, and restaurants and bars almost simultaneously. It was an obvious planned attack against the innocent citizens of Paris, killing at least 129 people and injuring hundreds. It was later revealed that ISIS was behind these attacks, sending the message that they are not done.

When I first heard about the horrible attacks in Paris, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my roommate’s bedroom. Our eyes were glued to our phones as we skimmed news articles and updates to find out exactly what had happened. France seems worlds away when you’re stuck in a small university in the Midwest, but a lump formed in my throat as I read the continued updates of how many casualties were counted. I know I wasn’t alone when I held back tears reading the firsthand accounts of the people who witnessed this horrific tragedy. I felt sick, and as the information continued to be distributed in the following days, that feeling intensified.

It’s hard as an American to hear of these horrible acts and not immediately think of the attacks on September 11, 2001. So I’m not going to fight it. When the first plane hit north tower of the World Trade Center, I was in my first grade classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Rose, immediately brought us into the neighboring classroom to watch the news unfold on a little television in the corner. As a little kid, I had no idea what was going on, but like most kids, I picked up on the panic in my teacher’s voice that she was trying to suppress and immediately became frightened. I was glad that we moved classrooms, because my twin brother was in that class. He made me feel safe. I don’t remember doing anything else that day, somehow I doubt that we did anything else but watch the news. Coloring seemed less important now.

After the final bell rang at Bonner Elementary School, my father picked me and my siblings up from school like he always did in his brown Jeep. He asked us what we thought about everything that happened that day, and I don’t remember what I said. I don’t know what he was expecting us to say, but I doubt any of us, my older sister being in fourth grade at the time, said anything worth remembering. By the end of that day, the tragedy was over for me. My young brain was probably already transfixed on the next thing, like if my twin brother wanted to play Pokémon cards when we got home or if my little sister, who wasn’t in school yet, played with my toys while I was gone.

On that day, I didn’t understand what was going on. A lot of us at that age didn’t. I heard the panic, I mirrored the feeling of being frightened, but I didn’t feel the weight of what had happened. Being six years old in 2001, I was told that bad guys did a horrible thing. I sat cross-legged on the floor as I tried to digest and understand all the information that was being thrown at me. New York City seemed worlds away. I don’t even think I knew where that was. Now I am 21. I am a journalism student desperately trying to understand the world, and I find myself responding in the same way as six-year-old Natalie. I sat cross-legged on the floor, I felt frightened but partially disconnected by distance, just trying to dig through all of the information that was being given to me through a variety of news apps. Bad guys did a horrible thing.

When I went to bed Friday night, that’s what stuck in my brain. Bad guys did a horrible thing. I felt as though I was reading a children’s book. Bad guys did this, bad guys want to hurt the innocent, but now it is over, the story has ended. The good guys always win, right? That’s what we were taught. It’s an unsettling experience to remind yourself that real people died, real people are suffering, and that a resolution to the story is not just a page flip away. And you feel as small as you did when you were just kid.

I don’t really know how to end this kind of column, so I will just say this: my heart goes out to Paris, to France, and to the world. To all that have suffered at the hands of terrorists and to all that regrettably will suffer. To the refugees of this horrible circumstance that are being blamed by the ignorant. I don’t know what the right way to respond to this is, or the right thing to do to combat a terrorist group that is targeting the world. I’m tempted to handle this the way I did as a kid first facing the idea of tragedy, look for an adult and hope that they know the right thing to do.

Natalie Howell is an alumna of UW-River Falls. She was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during the 2016-2017 academic year.