** I generally hate to preface anything I write with a warning about being offended, but with as sensitive as this subject is, I assume there are some people who invariably will be offended (which I generally don’t care about, and also don’t now) but I hope that if they are offended it’s actually from something offensive I wrote (which I doubt I will) and not from the snap judgment to stop reading early.**
The theme of the ten-year anniversary commemoration of 9/11 was, in almost every circumstance, some version of “never forget”, which is unquestionably one of the most vacuous and empty thoughts to have about the whole thing, and it’s important from a lot of perspectives to understand why.
Now, I want to mention right up front that 9/11 is undoubtedly a horrific human tragedy. The loss of life that day should in no way be demeaned. The sacrifice of the first responders is truly noble. The courage and motivation of many young men and women to enlist in the military and volunteer for service is admirable.
The effect that the event has had on the American psyche is profound…but is that a good thing?
Most of the “never forget” stuff yesterday came from one of three sources.
All day long, Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with “never forget” posts. Just knowing the normal demographics and being somewhat aware of the general education level and interest in politics of that demographic, those posts basically amount to nothing more than participating in any other social media trend, akin to the “RIP [whatever celebrity]” tweets, that are essentially just everyone’s way of saying, “I bet I knew that x died before you did!” Or when everyone changed their profile pictures to cartoons to prevent child abuse…because that makes sense. Honestly, what could be more trivial?
Then we have the news media, who exploited 9/11 all week long while rolling up the advertising money.
Then of course there are the advertisers who essentially turned the 9/11 football games into the Super Bowl of horrific death. It’s no surprise that every ad exec had the same thought. “Let’s make a really emotional 9/11 commercial about some kids and freedom and have it lit really cool, film it in black and white, put some emotional song over it, and pull at everyone’s heartstrings, reminding them how American Verizon is.”
This was all done in the name of making sure that we would never forget an event that we could never possibly fucking forget.
And what exactly does it even mean to “never forget”? That’s the real question here.
Surely we should remember the loss of life and the impact on the families of those who died. We should remember the sacrifice of the responders. We should remember the courage of our soldiers.
But after we get there, then what? What does the constant reminder of 9/11 do for us as a country?
In the ten years since that tragic day, has there been any aspect of our lives that wasn’t directly or indirectly affected by 9/11? I would argue that there’s not.
In the ten years since that tragic day, has there been anything that our focus on that event has brought us that can be even considered remotely positive? Anything?
**Here’s where you’re going to be mistakenly offended.**
If there’s nothing that’s been made better in the aftermath of the tragedy, perhaps it’s better that we do forget. We can still keep the loss of life, the sacrifice of the responders, and the courage of the soldiers in our hearts.
Do we need the constant mental pictures of that day in our heads? Do we need to continuously hear the warnings from our politicians? Do we need the events of 9/11 to be exploited to manipulate us into voting for whatever politician or whatever policies they choose? How many more freedoms do we need to give away in the name of security?
It’s like when someone loses their spouse. One would think the proper response should be to cope with that loss for however long it takes and then hopefully move on with your life, trying to find a new source of happiness, keeping that person in your heart. It’s not to create shrines to your spouse in your house and let all your future days be guided by that person’s death.
If our goal is to “never forget” but nothing good comes from a state of constant reminder, what’s the point?
Do we need to be in a perpetual 9/12 state of mind?
And what are we to remember?
Are we to remember the feeling of total insecurity and helplessness that an event like that produces? Maybe. That could be a feeling that might prompt action in a certain direction that could lead to positive results. If that led us to do everything possible to prevent future attacks, maybe we’d be onto something. Instead it led us into a state of continuous fear that had a vast majority of Americans allowing a president to take us into two unending wars, one with a country who not only didn’t attack us and wasn’t related to the attacks, but wasn’t even capable of causing an existential threat to the United States then or in the future. Invading a country that did not attack us and couldn’t is unacceptable by any standard – not to mention criminal.
We were so fearful that we reelected the George W. Bush on the basis of that fear. Bush and Cheney will talk, even today, about how they never had a terrorist attack under their watch. They’ll say it with a straight face and excuse 9/11 because that was a pre-9/11 world where apparently things just didn’t count. I mean, who could have known that terrorists wanted to attack us? It’s not like they had intelligence briefings saying exactly that…except that they did have those. The team that was unable to prevent the greatest attack on American soil in half a century got themselves reelected by instilling a perpetual fear in the American public of another 9/11 – so much so that people actually thought these men were their great protectors!
That fear, among the constant reminders of 9/11, prompted a Congress to act quickly in passing the Patriot Act that has allowed countless warrantless wiretaps, unending records of everyone’s private communications, and a suspension of habeas corpus among other dismissals of our civil liberties and the relaxation of checks and balances in political power.
That fear, sparked and stoked with constant reminders of 9/11, has resulted in the American public’s tacit assention to policies in the Middle East that have left us in two wars approaching a decade long each that have now cost us roughly $1.25 TRILLION. That’s, like, this much: $1,250,000,000,000. Then the politicians who spent Bush’s eight years supporting these very policies have the audacity now to cry that America is broke and cut taxes for rich people while simultaneously cutting spending on education, infrastructure, and social programs designed to provide some means of stability for people who can’t support themselves. No matter what your politics are, you can’t argue that allowing people to die from starvation or lack of health care is somehow more American than allowing them to die from terrorist attacks. They’re humans. They’re Americans, too.
Are we to remember that those attacks were, in full, tied directly to religion? That would be a great thing to remember if our response wasn’t more religion. In the times since those attacks, we’ve seen our politics devolve, at times, to contests about who is more Christian and who can better express our hatred of those brown Muslim people…and that’s not to mention that we still have candidates trying to garner votes based on their stances on gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research. Or maybe Republicans prefer that we don’t allow 9/11 to center our priorities on what’s best for the country when it comes to those things, but we definitely should “never forget” when we need to talk about how god told George W. Bush that those wars over there are totally justifiable.
Are we to remember 9/11 in the way that we’re supposed to remember Pearl Harbor while simultaneously cutting education across the country – the one and only thing that could insure that we, as a society, would remember these events in the proper way?
Are we to remember Rudy Giuliani repeating 9/11 ad nauseam to win a Republican nomination? No! Shhh…don’t talk about that. He’s a “hero”.
Are we to remember the ultimate inconvenient truth that nearly one million civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killed in this past decade and that twice that number have been injured? No, let’s not remember that one either, since our wars are “just”.
Are we to remember those who lost their lives? Yes. But also remember that they weren’t martyrs. Their lives weren’t lost in any sacrifice to a greater cause, unless the catalyst for more war is a “greater cause”. They were just innocent people with families going about their day, trying to earn a living. While we remember that, we must remember that the vast majority of the people who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan were as well. While remembering those who died that day, remember that their humanity is our humanity and our humanity doesn’t differ from the humanity of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Are we to remember the heroes on United 93 who acted to save the lives of others if that plane had hit another building? Unquestionably. But while we remember that, let’s act in a way that honors their courage and focuses on the fact that they acted because they knew that they could prevent more senseless deaths.
Are we to remember the first responders who sacrificed their own well being to search the wreckage and carnage for bodies? Without a doubt. But how well are we remembering their sacrifice when we continue to elect Republican politicians who vote against their health care when their heroic acts have left them stricken with cancer?
Are we to remember the soldiers whose courage and love of country motivated them to sign up and serve in our armed forces? Absolutely. But how can we honor that when our leaders send them into unending and poorly strategized (not to mention unjustifiable) wars, resulting in more loss of American life? How well do we honor that when we elect politicians who continuously cut veterans benefits? How are we “remembering” their sacrifices properly when we turn a blind eye to the countless veterans who come home with post-traumatic stress disorder to find no care and no job and no education?
Are we to remember the images of that day that are already indelibly etched on our psyche?
What does it mean for someone to say “never forget” if they don’t have any perspective on what caused 9/11, what can be done to prevent another one, or what our reaction to 9/11 has caused in the world?
How many times do we need to be told that we are or were or will be more unified if we keep 9/11 in our minds?
Maybe I’m the one forgetting, but I don’t remember us being all that unified after 9/11, no matter how many times we are told that we were. And if all our unity brought us was our collective mindless assent to destructive policies that have left us far worse off than we were, is unity even a good thing? Throughout history, blind nationalistic pride has been manipulated and used as a destructive force countless times. Is that what we want?
You might be thoroughly incensed at what I’ve written, though I hope you aren’t. I write only to encourage you to reflect on what your own memories of the event were – not what Twitter, the news media, or any politician tells you your memories are.
When you’re being convinced not to forget something that you cannot possibly forget, it’s worth it to ask why.
Disclaimer: I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to turn this into a contest of who’s more “9/11” (but I think someone’s going to pull that card, so I’m using the Bush doctrine here, if you will) and there are people who are far more connected in far more serious ways to the events than I was, just as there are people who were far less connected, whether by distance, relationships, age, or political interest. Everyone has their own personal experience of how they perceived the event or how they were affected by it, directly or indirectly. I used to travel through the WTC subway station every day to work in Jersey City while living in the West Village up until 9/1/01 and had the loved ones of people very important to me die in the towers.