I was actually dreading this. I don’t do well with “remember the fallen” type writings, and in the case of September 11th, I have a considerably hard time looking back on that day and not having the memory terribly darkened by what all came afterwards.
Pearl Harbor Day, in a sense, could almost be seen as a “holiday” in that it catalyzed one of the United States’ greatest military triumphs. One that we like to relive via movies and video games pretty much constantly. The Japanese hit us and it turned into a victory. The message of Pearl Harbor day seemed to be “go ahead and try us, we will fuck up your shit.”
With 9/11, aside from having a much less clever name, there’s no subsequent victory. The aftermath of the attacks leaves us with very little to be proud about.
There was a window of a few months where we all felt that collective purpose and unity, like we’d band together and set aside petty differences to fight as a team against a force of true evil, but that didn’t really last that long. The ashes had hardly settled in the crater of Shanksville before the event was being used, exploited even, for political angling. We got a war in an unrelated country, a PATRIOT Act that’s used almost solely for drug busts, an economic disaster thanks to paying for said wars on credit, a ruined global image, and a political rift so deep that anyone attempting to cross it has a tendency to fall to their death.
That’s ignoring the shameless exploitation of the event, as well. It’s not hard to find stores selling mountains of shirts, mugs, deely-bobbers and mudflaps saying “these colors don’t run” and “remember!” The media will spend the whole day listing off the names of the deceased, talking about heroes and courage, and everyone will start competing for ratings and support by proving that they remember so much damn harder than everyone else.
Meanwhile the twin tower site is still a hole in the ground and first responders are dying thanks to getting no medical help.
I don’t see anything particularly honorable when looking back on the attacks. There’s no great triumph that came afterwards, no grand unity or coming together. If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from 9/11, it’s that we as a nation seriously lost our way. The dead can’t look at their deaths and say that through tragedy came greatness, only more tragedy.
Plus, call me a callous asshole, but in the past ten years we’ve had about 350,000 deaths from car accidents, just to pick one random cause. Every year there are around 15-20,000 murder victims, but no one remembers any of them. Are we saying that one accidental death is worth remembering more than another? The children of 9/11 victims are more honorable and worth granting celebrity status than the children of non-terrorism-related murder victims? A child reading an article about such Sep-11 children might feel a pang of resentment at the unspoken message that their familial tragedy isn’t important or newsworthy.
I don’t mean any of this to downplay the enormity of the event, but rather to point out that ten years on, we’ve had millions of deaths, tragedies abound, and radio silence for all of them. As the years pile up, we still revisit that day over and over again, but don’t use it to learn anything or make any forward progress. We just go back and look at the smoking towers, list off dead people, and have a collective circle jerk about it with no purpose beyond that. We don’t need to remember 9/11, we need to remember after 9/11.
My heart goes out to every family torn apart, for the fear that gripped us all, and for the people who risked (and lost) their lives to save survivors in the rubble. The aftermath does nothing but sadden me. These annual remembrances do little but highlight that. And I can’t help but wonder how many years we can keep this up.