9-11 Remembrance Deserves Better

I am going to begin by standing on thin ice.

Memorializing September 11, 2001 is not something I do, at least not in the commonly-accepted sense. I do not hallow that day. I do not reserve a moment of silence. I do not obsess with hatred toward the people who caused immeasurable harm and suffering upon the lives of the victims and their families, but neither do I embrace them. And I do not embrace their equally radical antagonists.  I, like many others, have had 14 years to reflect on the event. I am sickened by it all.

People grieve in different ways.

Some people find ways to re-live their grief as though being constantly reminded of it will make them better for the experience. Of them, a few will take that impulse and focus it upon a cause which they believe will help right a perceived wrong, correct a perceived mistake–in short, ‘do something’ for a greater good.

Other people are more apt to absorb the shock privately and keep their expressions of grief private and personal. They too will build on whatever is left of their lives, but do so without fashioning it into a cause.  The coping, the remembrance, is personal.

You might be forgiven for thinking this latter kind of griever is isolated in an unhealthy way, wallowing dangerously in some great pool of self-pity–broken, inconsolable.  Surely some are, but my experience with private grievers is that most are not. I have known both sorts of grievers in my time, and it is very tempting to subdivide them into these stereotypes. They are archetypal. They make great characters for movies. And it would be easy fashion me into a third stereotype as an observer: the coolly detached emotional-cripple who doesn’t say a sympathetic thing about people’s deaths, injuries or struggles in the aftermath.

I am not an emotional cripple, but I do say this.  The urge to ‘do something’ constructive and the appearance of wallowing dangerously in a pool of self-pity merged almost instantly after September 2001. To this day, it still looks like a parody of grief. Or, if you prefer, it looks like a conscientious effort to present that day’s events as martyrdom.

Martyrdom is not only for Muslims. If there is such a thing as counter-martyrdom, I think that is what was presented in the chaos of that day and, for the most part, what we continue to see. It sickens me. And the prevailing laziness which prevents any sort of comprehension of what has transpired sickens me further.

I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way. If that makes me cynical, I accept the label, but I take no joy in it. I happen to think desire to ‘do something’ constructive with the grief surrounding 9-11 never came to fruition, and the reminders of that failure continue to this day. That leaves me with more respect for those people who suffer their 9-11 grief quietly. Such sentiment as I have, I reserve for them.


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  • The tragedy of 9/11 is the 14 years of constant war that followed; with no end in sight.
    That morning my first thought was; it’s blow-back and said such to an acquaintance.
    His response to me was a warning to be careful to whom I said that.
    I can align with much of what you wrote…

    • The “careful who you say that to” feeling is exactly the feeling I have even today. I can count the people in my workplace who would easily become offended (and offensive) were I to utter my opinion among them. They would have no curiosity at all about why I might come to this point of view. And I am positive (because have I heard them describe their own take on 9-11) they write-off the entire Muslim population as ungodly, untrustworthy, and undeserving of the slightest human consideration. It is said that people learn to hate. People who have no direct experience in such matters must learn from teachers. Who are these teachers?

      • The teachers are the society you live in; the media; and the politicians/government who carefully frame your day to day reality. Even the public educational system; all 13 years of it.
        Very difficult to break the spell; does a fish know it lives in water?

  •    I would agree that the action was blowback, but it’s not that simple. Bin Laden was reportedly offended that the US stationed troops in Saudi Arabia during Gulf War I, thereby ‘polluting’ the Muslim community. Al Qaeda predates that and our policies generally in the ME have offended the Muslims. Beyond that, the anti-American or anti-West feelings on the part of the fundamentalists have been used by others for political ends.
       One of the first things that bothered me about 9/11 was the knee-jerk designation of all the victims as ‘heroes’. Yes, there were heroes – people who risked and sometimes lost their lives evacuating the buildings, those to took down the plane in PA. However, it was flat-out false to impute heroism those to who died instantly – the stock broker whose last thoughts were how to make money; to the lawyer who was plotting a way to screw someone. Lumping all the victims together cheapens the word ‘hero’ and thereby betrays the genuine heroes of the day. I see the same process at work in making heroes of anyone who served in the military. I respect and mourn those who put themselves at risk – whether with justifiable cause or whether deluded by propaganda – but I do not apply the same label to those who spent their time sorting shoes in a warehouse in Missouri or – like me – analyzing intelligence safely away from any danger. That’s why when I go to an Indian PowWow, I do not participate in their opening ‘parade of veterans’. I served in the USAF but don’t consider myself a veteran in that sense. I am humbled to witness the ‘real’ veterans, bearing the physical and sometimes mental scars of war but recognize I don’t deserve that honor.
       The second thing that bothered me was the instant jingoism; the sprouting of American flags from every vehicle; the instant condemnation of anyone of Middle Eastern ancestry (and given our general ignorance, of Sikhs and Hindus and the non-WASP generally). It got so extreme that anyone not waving the flag was considered a sympathizer at best, another terrorist at worst. I realize that the PTB promoted the mindless, uncritical hatred to advance their agenda, but it was (and is) sickening how easily duped and ready to hate so many people are.
       The third thing that bothers me is that 9/11 was seized on as an excuse for violating the law in several ways, unconstitutionally violating our civil rights in order to tighten the control by the elite. Manipulating the people through control of the media, education and politics evidently wasn’t enough – they had to install a full-on fascist structure. Of course, it was also used as a [false] justification for our [pre-planned] wars which have destabilized so much of the ME (and beyond) – and generated blowback which will last for generations.

       I grieve 9/11. But I grieve far more than just those who died on that day.

    • Blow back is that simple; if one knows and understands the history, over the decades, of vast manipulation, violence, murder, and injustice that preceded that act. I did and do. It’s only a part of the myriad reasons I self exiled.
      Hero is the most abused word in the American lexicon; but it’s part of the propaganda blitzkrieg akin to the Germans and Soviets of the WWII era. Still effective after all these years…

    • I agree that the people who died in the Twin Towers cannot be reflexively classed as ‘heroes’. I think ‘innocents’ is nearer to the mark, but I know many people who would rank that conclusion a demotion or worse, a repugnant step toward moral equivalency with the women and children annihilated by an American “Oops–my bad” drone strike on a wedding somewhere in Afghanistan.

      If our dead are heroes for just being Americans going about their business in a high-rise, why aren’t the dead Afghan women and children going to wedding? This is why the 9-11 remembrances seem to mirror Muslim memorials to martyrs.

      I also appreciate your distinction between veterans who served and veterans who served heroically. In this day and time, only a veteran can get away with saying such a thing out loud. I never served, but members of my family did. They drew the same distinction with the same honor and the same humility. In World War Two, everyone who sold war bonds or served in the Merchant Marine or did their job like Rosie the Riveter was deemed heroic for pitching-in to do whatever they could.They were glorified as heroes of a Just War. Maybe so. But maybe it was just war. Maybe it was just Business like Smedley Butler said.

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