Allison Engkvist/Daily

My mom yelled for my dad to come downstairs. He took me out of my crib and joined her in front of the TV in our living room.


Moments after the three of us gathered, the second plane made contact.

I was less than three months old when the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, befell our great nation. While I saw it as it happened, I did not truly experience it — I was too young to truly understand the gravity of what was happening.

That is more than many of the students on this campus can say. Many University of Michigan undergraduates, especially freshmen and sophomores, were not born when terrorists killed thousands of Americans in New York City. 

It is imperative for our campus community to honor the victims of this attack. In order to do so, the Young Americans for Freedom at the University is proud to host the 9/11: Never Forget Project on each anniversary of the attacks. We plant 2,977 American flags on the north lawn of the Diag — one for each person murdered by terrorists. 

Members of Gen Z often hear that we must “#NeverForget” that day, but how can you remember something you never experienced or even saw?

Though hardly any of us can recall the traumatic sights of the Twin Towers collapsing or the smoke billowing from the Pentagon, we are reminded of them nearly every day — we do not know a world without the impact of 9/11. We haven’t experienced airport security without having to take our shoes off and undergo searches, nor have we been able to see loved ones off at the gate. Similarly, we now take for granted that our internet conversations may be monitored by the government due to increased government surveillance underpinning counter-terrorism efforts. We even joke about how Federal Bureau of Investigation agents are ever-present third parties to any online interaction.

Our country made such drastic changes in the wake of the attacks to ensure that they would never happen again. These defensive measures, however, were not sufficient. The U.S. military took a direct approach to topple the Taliban, beginning a 22-year war in Afghanistan. 

Now, a rushed and premature withdrawal of troops by the Biden administration has led to the abject collapse of the Afghan government the U.S. had aimed to stabilize. This has proven increasingly dangerous for remaining Americans and Afghan civilians who have yet to be evacuated, and has given virtual free reign to terrorists in possibly the worst American foreign policy disaster since the abandonment of Saigon. American troops had served as a cork in a bottle, keeping the Taliban from retaking the country and incurring no combat deaths since February 2020 (until our soldiers pulled out).

Even if one believes, as most Americans do, that removing American military influence from the country was the correct decision, it is difficult to argue that President Joe Biden’s manner of doing so was anything but bungled. Prior to the withdrawal, he abandoned the strategically important Bagram Airfield, left American military equipment to the Taliban and prohibited American air support and maintenance contractors that the Afghan army relied on.

Both the past two weeks and the past 20 years have proven two truths: America can be a force for good in the world and when America leaves a vacuum, evil can fill it.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, YAF members will present on campus to affirm these fundamental principles of our foreign policy.

As visitors and students arrive on campus next Saturday for the football game against the Washington Huskies, they will see a sea of flags paying tribute to American exceptionalism and a commemoration of the lost members of our family.

Since the project’s inception in 2003, students have planted over 12 million flags on campuses across the country. That is over 12 million declarations that America will not quietly roll over when it is attacked. We will come together to confront our assailants, wherever they may be.

I want to extend this invitation to the U-M community at large to join us in remembrance of the victims. On your way to your tailgate, come talk to us, say a prayer or take a moment of reflection on what happened to our country that day.

The mutual recognition that we all have an interest in preserving the American experiment following the attacks was the last great instance of our country’s unity. 20 years later, though we do not remember the attacks, we carry the omnipresent burden of living with them when we walk through airports, go online or read news of international conflict.

Join us in embracing our duties to our wonderful nation in a show of unity and an acknowledgment that we all stand ready to defend and celebrate our country.

Charles Hilu is the Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and can be reached at