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Sunday, September 11, 2005

As 9/11 becomes history instead of memory

For the most part, I find the "two Americas" meme, as preached by last year's vice presidential nominee John Edwards for instance, unpersuasive verging on repulsive. And then there's the old joke about there being two kinds of people — those who insist on dividing people into arbitrary groups, and those who don't. But then I read something like this in Sunday's WaPo:

Despite [various] initiatives [to commemorate the anniversary], some historians predict that popular culture eventually will file Sept. 11 in the same category as Memorial Day, Labor Day and Presidents' Day, holidays laden with a significance and gravitas that were slowly blanched by time.

For a date so freighted with emotion, images and pain, the diluting of the 9/11 anniversary seems impossible to fathom, especially in such places as Washington and New York. But historians said that decades from now, Sept. 11 might take on a different dimension. In other words, Sept. 11 eventually might become another holiday on which many Americans grill hot dogs, go to sales or spend a long weekend at a quaint bed-and-breakfast....

[But o]thers said they find a more striking parallel between Sept. 11 and Dec. 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Count me among the "others," then. Proudly, insistently, and defiantly so. Enough so to spend an hour or two writing a screed like this one, just because four years ago today, three thousand of my fellow Americans were murdered by some of the most evil bastards ever to draw breath.


The other night I stayed up way too late watching, back to back, the two recent National Geographic TV specials, Inside 9/11. I'll freely concede that as I've gotten older, I've become more sentimental, and I knew from the subject matter in general and from some reviews I'd read of these two specials that they'd probably upset me — again.

But ... yeah, they did. They really did. I basically spent two, maybe two and a half hours, alternately weeping and (quite literally) shaking my fist and shouting at the TV. (It was another of those occasions that confused the heck out of my poor dog, Weiss, who always thinks I'm mad at her or upset about something she did.)

Now, some folks never got upset in the same way I did four years ago, and that I still am. On the afternoon of 9/11/01, they were already talking about whether "we deserved it," or "we brought it on ourselves," or "when you look at it from their point of view, it's justified." They're hopeless — as impervious to facts, rational argument, or morality as a doorknob, and as just predictably likely to poke through the sheetrock after repeated violent banging if not properly restrained. Yeah, I'd defend to the death their right to be idiots in a free America. But they're not likely to be reading my blog anyway. Let's call them the 9/11 Hotdog Grillers.

But then there's a certain sort of person who was genuinely outraged about 9/11 on 9/11/01, and on 9/11/02, and maybe on 9/11/03, but who'd begun to have pretty mixed and conflicted feelings by 9/11/04. And now on 9/11/05, they're no longer outraged. Maybe they're merely ... annoyed, disapproving ... miffed about 9/11/01. Of them — the "Coalition of the Now-Merely-Miffed," let's call them — I think to myself, "Maybe if I could strap folks into comfy theater seats and make them ('Clockwork Orange'-fashion, if necessary) watch these TV specials, they'd get properly angry again." Maybe they'd stop drifting into the 9/11 Hotdog Griller camp, if only they could be properly (re-)educated. And if that involves some of those eyelid clamps ....

But no. That's an unworthy impulse, too. We just don't do re-education camps here.


I was born in 1957. Nobody I know, nobody I'm related to, was killed on 12/7/41, and by far my closest connection to the war into which America was plunged on that day — my dad — was still years away from being in combat himself then. What I know of Pearl Harbor Day and of World War II is mostly from books. 12/7/41 is all history, no memory, for me and my entire generation, and every generation that has or will come after mine.

But I do know quite a bit of history. I studied it in school (effectively minoring in it as an undergrad), and I've read all sorts of history books regularly, almost compulsively, during my whole life. And ya know what? 12/7/41 does make me mad! Not nearly as mad as I still am about 9/11, which I remember. But mad. And I guess that since I don't have any of the personal memories to go with 12/7/41, I don't particularly get mad at the Japanese. No, what makes me mad is contemporary people who don't know, don't care about, distort, and/or ignore history like 12/7/41.

And those are the same people who — as their personal memories of 9/11/01 fade, or become overlaid with others or tangled up with their domestic politics or whatever — will end up treating 9/11 as a day to grill hot dogs. I do regret — not despair over, but regret — that the Coalition of the Now-Merely-Miffed is almost certainly a growing one, whereas my own Coalition of the Weeping Shouting Fist-Shaking Dog-Confusers is probably shrinking. But thems the facts, as they stand now. Time only moves one direction, so the direct memories of 9/11/01 are indeed inevitably going to become less of a factor for America and Americans.

If it takes me fifteen or twenty minutes to explain to a teenaged granddaughter someday why 9/11/01 was a big deal, that will be pretty neat, in fact. It will speak well for the world she lives in then if 9/11 is only history —  history that's not like any of her own memories that she can directly relate to — by then.


But of course, the incredibly cosmically ironic thing is this: If the 9/11 Hotdog Grillers, as they're joined by more and more drifting over from the Coalition of the Now-Merely-Miffed, get control and power, then the odds of more 9/11/01- and 12/7/41-type events will just skyrocket. It's not their doing that we're (in some sense) celebrating four years without "another 9/11" here in the United States, and celebrating that even the wicked bastards' very best shots at civilization elsewhere in the meantime have been, comparatively, impotent. "Comparatively impotent" is, I guess, an offensive term if you or a member of your family was shredded on a Madrid train or in a London Underground station. And I'm not saying that the 9/11 Hotdog Grillers are unpatriotic or that they're in bed with al Queda (even though they chortle during the months when U.S. casualty figures in Iraq are up from the month before).

I'm just saying that they're ignorant of history and therefore lack the survival instincts of a planarian worm trying to avoid an electrode. I just hope that they're not indirectly essential to the survival of the species by guaranteeing more cataclysmic events that will, in turn, keep a sufficient percentage of the populace sufficiently in power often enough to keep the wicked bastard population from exploding, or even (God forbid) winning. Because the one thing that could make 9/11 suddenly more significant and powerful and emotional, that could drive people back out of the Coalition of the Now-Merely-Miffed and back among us Dog-Confusers, would be another, or (God forbid) a series of other, 9/11-type events.

Posted by Beldar at 01:44 AM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to As 9/11 becomes history instead of memory and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Four Years Later from No Oil for Pacifists

Tracked on Sep 12, 2005 6:54:26 PM

» It's still Sept. 12, and it will be for quite a while. from Small Town Veteran

Tracked on Sep 14, 2005 1:29:59 AM


(1) Old Coot made the following comment | Sep 11, 2005 9:35:17 AM | Permalink

Well said. Thanks.

(2) Kent made the following comment | Sep 12, 2005 9:19:53 AM | Permalink

I have to admit that I didn't do much for 9/11, except to try to explain to my daughter why it is more important than Grandparents Day. Without much success. She doesn't understand why we have a holiday for something that is sad. Pass the weiners.

My poor excuse for not doing much is that I lay awake the previous night stewing over the increasingly ugly politics in the wake of Katrina.

Our civilization is in free fall. And the pavement is coming up fast.

(3) AMac made the following comment | Sep 13, 2005 3:33:44 PM | Permalink

> what makes me mad is contemporary people who don't know, don't care about, distort, and/or ignore history like 12/7/41.

Yep. My uncle, who was a LT post WW2 in a tin-can destroyer escort, gets mad like that too. Count me as another 1957 vintage who feels the same way.

(4) B. Durbin made the following comment | Sep 15, 2005 10:32:51 PM | Permalink

My personal anger curve was very short, on the order of a day or two. After that it was replaced by resolution, as in, "We can't let this happen again."

I just can't sustain anger. But I can sustain resolve.

Actually, what really got me on 9/11— at work, far from a television or radio— was how hard it was to get my retail coworkers to grasp what was going on. I figured out the ramifications, including war, within the hour, and was having to deal with people who couldn't believe that anyone would crash "planes with children."

I guess I just knew that there is such a thing as evil, while some of them had never conceived of it.

(I'm very cynical about human nature. Yet I'm an optimist; I never doubted for one moment that 9/11, while extreme horror, was not the end of the world, and that within a short period of time, we'd be back to "Shark Attack!" stories and feeling secure again. That was another thing I did not have in common with my coworkers.)

But— yeah. If you don't remember how you heard the news, you've got one heck of a memory sink in your brain.

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