The event is often called a “tragedy.” “Tragedy,” literally “song of the goat” and related to staged dramas where the actors wore goatskins, is much too broad a term. It usually applies to accidents or acts of God like earthquakes and hurricanes. The 9/11 attacks were an act of war, not a tragedy. If you disagree, try this on for size: After the “tragedy” of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked and received a declaration of war from Congress.
Doesn’t fit, does it? It’s a tragedy when people die in an accident. It cheapens our language to not distinguish between an accident and an act of war, which is exactly what 9/11 was.
As for innocents killed, they were, with some exceptions, victims, not heroes. There’s nothing heroic about being killed when you are powerless to do anything about it. To call them heroes is to cheapen that currency. Some, of course, were heroes, as they risked or gave their lives to help others escape. But most were not; merely trapped in circumstances not of their own making or choosing.
Then there were true heroes; men who chose to rush into and up the burning towers to save others. I recall seeing the first known FDNY casualty being carried out of the tower, Fr. Mychal Judge, a priest who was ministering to his brothers. Father Mike is what our remembrance should be about: brave men who put their personal safety aside in order to save the innocent.
We lost 343 of New York’s Bravest that day. They were not victims. They died heroes, plain and simple.