Talking with our kids about 9/11

Ack! It’s been a while since I posted, but we’ve been very busy and I just haven’t had time. I still don’t really have time, but since today is the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I thought I’d share a conversation I had over the weekend with my 7 year old about the attacks on the World Trade Center. We were watching something on TV about the attacks. Afterwards Collin asked several times why the terrorists had done it. How do you explain to a 7 year old why people would deliberately kill themselves and so many others for no real discernible purpose? I’m not sure how much he understood, but here’s what I told him:

There are things which are right and wrong. Sometimes there are things which are so wrong we make laws against them like killing someone else. Sometimes there are things which are wrong, but which are choices people must make for themselves – like watching trash on TV. There are some people who think that no one should be allowed to make choices which they think are wrong. Here in America we believe that people should do the right things, but that they must be free to make their own choices even if that means that they will choose to do the wrong things. Here in America, you can do whatever you want even if it’s a crazy thing to do because we believe that each person must make their own choices. This is even how God works – he wants us to do good things, but he allows us to choose to do the wrong things. The people who attacked the WTC aren’t like that. They want to force everyone to dress, act, speak, think and live only in the ways they think are right. They hate that we don’t do that. They hate that whenever people around the world see how much freedom we have to decide how to live, they want that same freedom for themselves. They don’t think anyone should be able to do that. That is why they hate us and would like to see us become less powerful. They would like it if instead of seeing our freedom and wanting it for themselves, other people around the world would start hating us just like they hate us.
So they attacked us to show the world how strong they were and how weak America is. They hope that we won’t stand up for ourselves and will try to do things to make them happy. They want to make the rest of the world think we are the bad guys if we don’t do what they want us to do. They say, “see? People are being hurt because America won’t just do what we want. It is because America is allowing people to be hurt like this that we must keep fighting against them” – even though they are the ones who are causing all the problems. But the fact of the matter is that even if we do things to try to make them happy, they will keep trying to attack us because what they really want is to be the ones in charge, deciding what choices people get to make about their lives. If one person fights and the other person just runs away, it is the one who is fighting who will win. So they think if they just keep fighting and get other people to hate us, we will give up and then they will win. Then people will have to live how they want them to live.
The other thing which is different about America and the people who attacked us is that we value individual people. These people killed themselves because to them individual people don’t matter as much as gaining power to control others does. They will even kill their own people because they think that no person matters as much as what they are trying to accomplish. We believe that each person is very valuable and precious. We would never say, “there’s this really good thing we want to get done and you are not as important as that thing, so we’ll kill you if we think it will help us reach our goal.” Americans are the sort of people who say, “even my own life is worth giving up to protect another person. There is nothing more important than any individual person’s life.”
[As an example I told him the story of flight 93 and how the passengers fought back to stop the terrorists because they would rather die than allow the terrorists to kill more people.]
The terrorists kill themselves in order to hurt other people. Americans will allow themselves to be killed in order to keep other people from being hurt. It’s hard to fight people who don’t care about hurting other people. We see them hurting other people and want it to stop. Since we don’t want other people to be hurt, it’s hard for us to fight back because when we do people will be hurt. However, we cannot afford not to stand up for ourselves and the other people these terrorists would like to have power over. Because even if they got what they wanted and were able to force people to do what they think is right, they wouldn’t stop hurting people – they don’t think people are important and don’t feel bad at all about hurting other people. There will always be some reason in their mind why it’s OK to kill even people who are doing nothing wrong. We hate it that people get hurt when we fight back, but at least at the end when we win people will be safe. Once the fighting is done, we will die in order to keep people safe, because people are precious. Unlike the terrorists we do not think we have the right to take away a person’s life or their freedom to choose how to live.
That’s why we can be proud of being Americans. We aren’t perfect and too many people in America do use their freedom to choose to do things which are stupid or wrong. I wish more people made better choices about how to live, but that doesn’t mean I think I should be able to do something even God doesn’t do and take away their freedom.

I happen to think that this administration has made and continues to make terrible errors in trying to fight the ideology of Islamic fascism, so I’m not saying these things as a way of defending a particular course of action. However, our kids may well be fighting this battle when they are adults and I think it’s important for them to know that as much as America gets wrong, there are some very important things we get right. If we won’t stand up and defend those things, we will lose. It’s just that simple. If there’s anything in here which you find useful, please share it with your own kids and pass it around.


2 thoughts on “Talking with our kids about 9/11

  1. My dh is a FF. I took my children to the September 11 Memorial service given by our Fire Department this year. My son(5) asked about what happened as well, and it took several times of me repeating it in different terms for him to understand. I did the best I could, with out glossing over things. Several times he asked why, and it was difficult for me to answer.

    Thanks for posting your dialog.

    Now I better see why a child would wonder so much and it be so hard to understand. Because it is such a profound contrast to how we live in America, and the core values that we believe in.

    Thanks for sharing.



  2. That is the best explaination of the reasons why we do it as I have ever heard. The administration should hire you to explain to the world why we must succeed in the war against terror. You are absolutely correct when you say that they must understand and be prepared. This will be their fight and they must go into that fight with a greater resolve to do the right things, in the right ways in order for the world to be a place that they will want their own children to inherit. Well Done Sveeten.


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