For weeks I dreaded the upcoming anniversary of 9/11. This is not for any emotional turmoil I felt at the passing of the date, I had put it to bed long ago. Nor should anyone mistake this blog post as somehow unpatriotic or unfeeling. I criticize my country because I love it, and work to fix it. And I appreciate humbly and gratefully the sacrifice of so many.
However, after September 11, we as a nation sacrificed ourselves to our own fear, the likes of which I would dare say have not been seen since McCarthyism. So I hated to see 9/11 approaching because of how bloated “Patriot Day” has become (if, in another fifty years, this term has ACTUALLY caught on, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle). I say this as someone who does have very vivid memories of September 11. Unlike the children I work with, I was born before it happened and more than old enough to know and understand what was occurring. I must also write this as a person who came of age during the period of endless war, so I do not wish to be brushed off by anyone older than myself. I find that this is a more emotional occasion with older people – but I have to posit that they do not always see clearly for the emotion of the moment.
I hated the approach of 9/11 because it had long ago become merely another day to me. Ten years is nothing. It was the first few that were hard and full of difficult questions. By year four or five, it was time to start to heal.
We did not do this. And contrary to popular belief, after the first heady few months, the tragedy did not bring us together as a nation. We were torn apart from the inside. We (I say we because both major political parties did this) used the death and sacrifice of thousands of men and women – civilians, soldiers, and non-combatants in the Mid East – most vilely to defame one political group against another; to call liberals too soft and anti-American, to label conservatives as war-mongerers and dictatorial. There is a grain of truth in either. But we did not use this moment to heal. We used it for our own petty gains, protesting one against the other.
So pardon me that I do not burst into tears on this date, but neither should you. Because non-political America has used it too. I opened up the paper yesterday morning and 9/11 memorials were all over advertisements for big screen TVs and fresh produce (I am not kidding. A short blurb for Fred Meyer talked about the sacrifice of the nation and how we are heroes at home – which is why we should feed our families fresh cantaloupe). Schmaltzy tributes were all over the comics page. I realize that people write these for their own good rather than the good of others, but it needs to end. I am not advocating we forget the dead of 9/11. But had I been in the World Trade Center that day, the last way I’d want to be remembered is by a senator wiretapping my grandkids or an ad for country-style pork ribs. Not all people feel as I do – but those people generally are more afraid of things that go bump in the “dark” world beyond our safe American borders than I am.
My mother said this is a day that will always be remembered. I call bull. How many people under the age of 60 know or celebrate the date of Pearl Harbor outside the armed forces? I am probably in the minority of people my age in knowing that it was in December of 1941, but if asked the specific date, I’d be guessing (I feel like it’s the 14th, though). I got ticked at NPR for saying history teachers now had to explain an even to young people who didn’t remember it. Well duh! That’s what history is! It is the collective memory of humanity 99.999% of us did NOT experience!
This is not a bad thing! A slightly short memory will do us great good, not great harm. While it is true that increased safety measures have prevented other attacks from occurring, it is doubtful if taking off my shoes at the airport or giving up my toothpaste make us much safer – because as we may remember of the person who strapped a bomb to their underwear, bad things happen anyway. Mommy Government can slather her beloved child with SPF 50000, but she’ll probably still get a little sunburned (I’m going to get stoned for that metaphor, I know….)
If someone is willing to give up their own life to hurt us, there is little we can do to stop them, because at that point there is no means of negotiation. They are committed, and we can only do as best we can. So I will be the last person in the nation for spit on the graves of the dead of 9/11, and its aftermath. But I will be the first to say “Let us move on.”
I pray for a day when we rebuild a nation that is not based on fear of people we don’t understand, and a day when we will not use our martyrs for a political statement against liberals, homosexuals, women, conservatives, anything. The best response to 9/11 is not to fall apart, for that was the whole purpose of the attack. It is to lift our heads proudly and show that our system of government will not fall apart after such an event, as it has come very close to doing – it is to go on living proudly.