We Shall Never Forget: The Kids’ Book of Freedom / A Graphic Coloring Novel on the Events of September 11, 2001 positions itself as an antidote to a "world of constant motion and instant media" and purports to tell the complete and cautionary story of the attacks. Notwithstanding this lofty ambition, it is something of a fringe object. Compared to more mainstream children’s books about 9/11, its production values are low, and the limited attention it garnered was due primarily to the controversy provoked by its obvious Islamophobia. But We Shall Never Forget also documents, inadvertently, an anxious effort to stabilize the meaning of September 11th on the unsteady terrains of memory and mediation.
Published in 2011, the book speaks to an audience born after its titular event occurred. Accordingly, it provides detailed descriptions of September 11th and invites young readers to embellish them with their crayons. It is an unsubtle text. "Children," one page reads, "the truth is, these terrorist attacks were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are free and our society is free." Jingoism like this pervades the book, but I interpret this stridency as confessing a fear that the significance of September 11th will slip or recede.
Near the end, a prompt asks, "Can you draw a picture of Freedom? What does this mean?" The query is simultaneously open-ended and didactic, but the blankness of the page reflects the relative emptiness of the idea of "9/11" for the generation born after it, young people whose geopolitical horizons are shaped by an event they know only as history. Doubtless, "what does this mean?" is an invitation to extol the virtues of America. Indeed, an earlier page instructs kids to write a "story about what freedom means to you" and suggests they send it to someone in "China, Russia or the Middle East." But we might also read something uncertain or even plaintive in the question.
For the vast majority of Americans, September 11th was a mediated event; for the people born after, it was doubly so. What is the status of a memory produced in these conditions? Can children be properly said to 'forget' something they never remembered in the first place? Might the passage of time, and the processes of remediation, have diminished the overdetermining power of "9/11"? And if so, what new possibilities—pedagogical, political, or otherwise—might be opened up in this long aftermath?