Saturday, September 10, 2011

The 9/11 post I wish I didn't have to write

At the beginning of the week I was ruminating on subjects for the next update. Perhaps something about British novelist Somerset Maugham? What about the curious and frankly scary parity between the sensations I've experienced when sitting at a slot machine in at Atlantic City and while sitting in a friend's apartment playing Street Fighter III ranked matches on his PS3? Why not an anniversary post, seeing as how Beyond Easy is now almost a year old?
But suddenly all I can think about is 9/11.
9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 nineleven 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11
When I drive to work in the morning and switch on the radio, everybody on NPR is talking about 9/11.
When I walk past a television set on my lunch break, the CNN anchors are talking about 9/11.
When I grab a free copy of the local news rag to do the crossword puzzle, two of the three above-the-fold front page stories are 9/11-related human interest pieces.
When I return from my break and pass the same television set, a different set of CNN anchors are talking about 9/11.
When I drive home and switch on the radio, different people on NPR are saying the same things about 9/11.
When I arrive home and check my inbox, I find a mass-email from Senator Menendez, inviting me and his other constituents to share our reflections on 9/11.
When I check the daily batch of editorial cartoons, I find more than half of the cartoonists are already showcasing their latest batch of mawkish memorial kitsch: Lady Liberty with a single tear rolling down her cheek, Uncle Sam hanging his head, the godlike martyrs of the NYPD/NYFD digging through the rubble, bald eagles, flags, a pair of shadows, a pair of candles, flags, Liberty Bells, flags, Never Forget, flags, flags, flags -- the same cartoons they've been phoning in every September for the last decade.
When I open up my news tabs, it's all the same. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11. 9/11.
How has the tragedy changed our lives? How has the tragedy changed your life? Who in your community has been directly affected by the tragedy? Who in your community has been indirectly affected by the tragedy? Who in your community knows somebody from another community who has been directly affected by the tragedy?
We talk to members of Generation X to see how they feel ten years after the tragedy. We talk to members of Generation Y to see how they feel ten years after the tragedy. We talk to Manhattan residents to see how they feel ten years after the tragedy. We talk to Muslims to see how they feel ten years after the tragedy. We talk to politicians to see how they feel ten years after the tragedy. Post comments about how you're feeling ten years after the tragedy!
And now we'll hear from the same analyst we we spoke to last year about how the tragedy of 9/11 changed America, and he's going to tell us about how the tragedy of 9/11 has changed America.
Where were you when you heard about the tragedy? What were you doing when you heard about the tragedy? What did you do the day after the tragedy? What were you feeling one year after the tragedy? How do you feel about how you felt about the tragedy now that ten years have passed since the tragedy?
We talk to people who lost spouses in the tragedy of 9/11. We talk to people who lost friends in the tragedy of 9/11. We talk to people who lost parents in the tragedy of 9/11. We talk to people who lost children in the tragedy of 9/11. We talk to people who lost casual acquaintances in the tragedy of 9/11.
The date on the bottom-right of my computer monitor is 9/7/2011. The anniversary is still four days off.
In related news:
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie orders that all flags at public buildings be lowered to half-mast in observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, beginning two days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
  • Ninety-three syndicated newspaper comic strips will run remembrance strips on September 11's Sunday comics page.
  • The Onion is, as usual, spot on.
  • Jiminy Christmas, enough is enough. If we're going to observe a National September Eleventh Remembrance Week, let's declare the damn thing and make it official, please.
    But I would really rather we not do that.
    What occurred on 9/11/01 was horrific -- no doubt about that. There is no reason we should not observe its anniversary, remember those we lost, commemorate those who demonstrated heroism, and strive to learn what we can from the event.
    But that doesn't seem to be what we're doing today.
    In the days after 9/11/2001, public figures and media personalities in the United States were engaged in an undeclared patriotism pissing contest.
    In the days leading up to 9/11/2011, public figures and media personalities in the United States are in a contest to see who can be the saddest and most remorseful, even though most of them weren't in Manhattan when it occurred.
    If a nation's mass media is a reflection of its consciousness, it would appear that the United States is observing the anniversary of a very bad day by putting its thumb in its mouth and whimpering like a toddler with a stubbed toe.
    Viewed in the broad historical perspective, 9/11 was a slap in the face. More of an insult than an injury.
    What's an injury, then?
    The western end of Continental Europe was razed in the last century. Twice.
    Seven million civilians were killed in World War I. Forty to fifty million civilians were killed in World War II; about 77,000 of those deaths can be attributed to the Allied Forces' firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and about another 246,000 to the United States' atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    We've counted about one to three million Vietnamese killed during the United States' involvement in Vietnam's civil war. If you want more details, run a pair of Google image searches for "vietnam napalm" and "vietnam agent orange."
    The U.N.-authorized military actions in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War resulted in the deaths of something like 103,500 Iraqi civilians.
    Moscow burned during the Napoleonic Wars. London endured seventy-six consecutive nights of bombing raids in 1941-2. Japanese soldiers murdered and raped thousands of civilians in Nanking. Israel gets slammed by rocket attacks on a regular basis. How many people were getting killed every day in Rwanda a few years back? And the Khmer Rouge -- let's not talk about the Khmer Rouge.
    Ten years ago, a terrorist attack on the United States killed three thousand people and destroyed a block of office buildings.
    It was a horrible day, but I wish the mass media would try to keep it in perspective. I can't help but worry that this makes the United States look like a land of wimps and whiners. We can dish it out, but we can't take it. One would think that a nation with the strength of character to match its military muscle would treat the anniversary of terrible event with a little more restraint and a lot less melodrama.
    The events of 9/11/2001 occurred ten years ago. The rubble has been cleared away. Osama Bin Laden is dead, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is rotting in GITMO, and we hear about another high-ranking al-Qaeda member getting nailed by a drone attack almost every other month. Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have analyzed the event, its causes, and consequences from almost every conceivable angle.
    Keeping it to a somber, tasteful minimum is not an option: sensationalist human interest stories attract viewers. And so the media unleashes a typhoon of pieces wherein everyone who remembers the two big kabooms and two big crashes is put on the air and asked to remind viewers about how awful it was. Ten-year-old footage of of the day's events are re-aired and reanalyzed ad nauseum, just in case anyone missed the last nine years of annual 9/11 remembrance coverage or has spent the previous decade in a coma.
    Recovering from a tragedy means getting over it and moving on. The victim needn't (and probably shouldn't) forget about what happened; but at some point the grieving needs to stop. No competent therapist would encourage a trauma victim to continuously harp on the event for the rest of his life. Obsessing over a terrible emotional or psychological blow from the past rarely helps ease the pain.
    So how should we commemorate 9/11's anniversary?
    I have no specific suggestions, but a stiffer upper lip would be a start. Keeping the 9/11 remembrances limited to 9/11 might be another.
    I've long thought that David Rees (of Get Your War On fame) has the right idea. Whenever September 11 rolls around, he replaces his whole website with an image and a brief quote for the duration of the day. (As I write this at 1:15 a.m. on 9/11/2011,'s normal front page is up, but perhaps this only means the switch isn't automated and Mr. Rees plans to do it later.)
    In case you miss it this year (and in case he ends up not doing it, though I can't guess why he'd break with tradition), here's a screen grab of taken back in 2005. (Click to enlarge.)
    I have nothing to add.


    1. Something always bothered me about 9/11 exposure, and you were very perceptive in your critique. There seems to be an American tendency to be both short-sighted and melodramatic - similar to our glorification of WWII, a conflict that happened entirely abroad with the exception of one attack.

      Incidentally, I suppose it is a sign of the times that just the *idea* of Google image searching "Vietnam" and "napalm" sent a shiver up my spine. I guess I'm still human.

    2. And don't forget there's a good amount of coin to be made by wallowing in 9-11 nostalgia (nostalgia? Yes I think many are nostalgic about the seeming certainty of that time.) The 24 hour news cycle has a voracious appetite, and the anniversary of 9-11, not to mention the 10th anniversary, probably has dollar signs dancing in the heads of all the major media companies' execs. Hell, I bet even Animal Planet and the Food Network have specials planned :-/

    3. While I might disagree with your sentiment that 9/11 was an "insult rather than an injury" everything else we could agree on. I've always lived on the western coast of this country so my entire exposure to 9/11 from the beginning until now has been completely media fed. I've never even been to New York or D.C. Sure I can lament about how the patriot act eroded away my freedoms or that flying became even more a pain in the ass or how ten years of war has turned my country into a very bitter and angry place, but really to me 9/11 is something I saw happen on TV. Moving on did not take anywhere near the amount of effort as those directly impacted by it.

      What I find interesting is that while the media is drowning us in 9/11 (I am dreading the fact that watching the opening of football season today means it's going to be all over the place), the actual people in my life don't seem to be noticing. Not that people I know don't watch/read the news. Far from it. It's just that by and large people around me aren't talking about it. I found this fascinating and tried to reason why. Has everyone in fact moved on as they should have? Are people burnt out on all the coverage and thus avoiding the topic? Or do people just not care anymore? I don't have a good answer for this one. It might be possible that 9/11 for many people is becoming part of our murky history that everyone knows happened but does not give much thought to even on anniversaries, kind of like V-E day or the Pearl Harbor attack.

    4. We, as people living in the geo-political designation of the United States should commemorate September 11 by ceasing aggression and embracing peace over war, because right now "we" are doing a better job spreading terror with predator drones and depleted uranium than Al Qaeda could ever hope to do.

    5. A part of the Gettysburg Address came to mind today:

      "But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

      ...So shut up about it.

    6. Long-time reader and fan of all things 8EB/Beyond Easy, and I thought I'd tell you that not only do I share the sentiment of 9/11 being blown way outta proportion, I went against your advice and looked up some info on the Khmer Rouge.

      There's this guy that runs a bakery a few blocks away from my house. Real nice guy, easygoing, generous, really talkative. The guy's a Cambodian immigrant in his late thirties/early forties. I once asked him what brought him to the U.S., and he simply gave me a bear claw and a coffee on the house and said "I don't want to talk about it."

      Really puts this whole 9/11 thing into perspective.

      (Also, in light of all this talk about WTC, all I gotta say is that you're REALLY gonna enjoy 1984.)

    7. Yarrum: What about the American character suggests to you that we wouldn't be short-sighted and melodramatic toward just about EVERYTHING?

      Nookum: Indeed. On 9/12, all the front pages were: "9/11: a look back on the tenth anniversary." Yeccch.

      Adam: I'm from the New York Metro area, so I can sort of understand why the coverage would be ubiquitous. The day it happened, they let some of us out of class to call our parents on the school phone (this was before mobiles became widespread) to make sure they were still alive. A few of us got some bad news.

      Still, I don't think it warrants one or two weeks of pre-9/11 anniversary 9/11 anniversary coverage. Especially not on the national level.

      Matt: "We" is a funny way of putting it, especially since the American public is so disengaged with all the wars we're running. (There's one argument for reinstating the draft -- the American public might actually start giving a shit about our foreign incursions/occupations again.)

      Jeff: And yet, here we are citing the Gettysburg Address :P

      J: Pretty much what my grandfather says whenever I ask what happened to him on the shore of Normandy in 1944.

      No matter how rotten a day or week I'm having, I can always remind myself that I'm not living in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Makes my own petty grievances seem rather shallow and perks me right up.