Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I Think We Should Reframe the Way We “Remember 9/11”

Today's entry isn't going to be a regular entry about gender, transition, and the transgender mystique because there is another topic I wish to address, so I apologize for the interruption of our typical programming.


Yes, I’m going to diverge from the typical 9/11 discussions. I honestly think it’s time to move on from our current annual, nationwide patriotic remembrance of 9/11 and reframe the way we remember it. Perhaps you already think I am unpatriotic or are discounting my thoughts before you even hear the reasoning behind them, but if you have an open mind I hope you’ll keep reading.

I’m not saying that we should forget those who lost their lives. No one who recalls that day will ever forget them, especially their family and friends. I’m not saying we should forget the firefighters and police officers who died or survived as heroes in the tragedy either. My mother is a police officer and the risk she and others take every day for our benefit cannot and should not be discounted. I’m not saying that the attack was an inside job like so many “truthers” do, although many of the reported “facts” of the situation are pretty questionable if you take a minute to look closer at what actually happened (compared to what was reported) that day.

I’m not saying that the event didn’t wound and scar our nation. I’m not saying that I won’t always remember where I was or what I was doing that day,  because I won’t. I doubt you will either, but I think it is time to reflect on (and stop) the nationwide sponsored patriotism of this event.

No more all day star-spangled news coverage, reminding us of the tragic day. No more presidential speeches about a united country and American spirit. No more social media inundation of “share this 9/11 meme otherwise be publicly shamed as being unpatriotic.” No more bringing patriotic treats to work. No more patriotism overload with American flags and “we remember” signs, billboards, commercials, memes, tweets, status updates, and news stories for a few days before returning to our regular programming of cat pictures, Facebooking, complaining about work and grim news stories about other daily tragedies.

Very few think about 9/11 approximately 350 days a year, and that number is increasing every year, so why do we spend two weeks every year around this time reliving a tragedy and rehashing the same stories and the same American-flag-flying patriotism/nationalism we forget about so quickly come September 15th? Has 9/11 become a grim version of Christmas? An annual festival in regret and sorrow? If so what purpose does it serve?

That’s my question, why should we keep remembering 9/11 the way we do? Everyone just assumes it’s the thing to do and everyone seems to accept that it HAS to be that way, but whenever something is just assumed to be right thing to do, closer examination is required. In the immortal words of Mark Twain:


“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”


And so that is what I’m doing and asking you to do as well, to pause and reflect.


Why do we “remember 9/11” in the way that we have been? Why is it always a public spectacle of patriotism? What exactly are we supposed to be remembering? And what could we be remembering instead? These are the question I believe are important to reflect on and wish to discuss.


So why do we “remember 9/11” the way that we have been? I suspect that we as a nation have created this grim annual festival of regret and sorrow because of the nature of the event. Because of the technology of modern day television, we as a nation all got to experience the events simultaneously. We all got to experience the chaos and the fear, confusion, and anger it brought with it. We all watched in horror as lives were cast aside like they had no meaning, and we all grappled with the pain of not understanding why the events we were beholding were unfolding. We all felt angry. We all felt afraid. We all felt unsafe. We were all worried our town might be next (for those outside of New York city). We wanted answers. We wanted resolution, and above all else we wanted justice.

9/11 blinded us with rage and despair. We all cried out for war, and our government happily obliged, almost a bit too eagerly (more on this in a moment). As a result of the nation-wide nature of this event, I believe people all across the country felt a certain togetherness; a unitedness that we hadn’t experienced in a long time. Someone attacked us as a people, which meant that anyone who stood by us was a friend and an ally. We banded together under the American flag, forgetting about all the problems we had as a nation as we openly embraced the warm arms of patriotism. It was us vs. them, regardless of whomever “them” was.

I think part of the reason we revere this day with such a fervor and public spectacle of patriotism is because it was one of the few times over the last several decades that we as a nation put our differences aside and united in mind and spirit. We lifted each other up instead of tearing each other down because we believed that we couldn’t afford to fight amongst ourselves. There was a mutual enemy, and so our old rivals became our allies… for a while, at least.

So what exactly are we supposed to be remembering? This message seems less clear than the patriotic overtones would have us believe. Some remember heroism of firefighters and police officers. Some remember the devastation and fear; and still others remember lost loved ones, but there is no unanimous “remembrance” we are supposed to be having. People share “we remember’ pictures and stories all day long, but what are they remembering exactly? And what are they wanting us to remember?

Perhaps the more pertinent question would be what are we forgetting? As we listen to presidential speeches, as we watch news stories, as we tweet and status update about the events, losses, and heroism of 9/11 isn’t there something we are forgetting about? Isn’t there an enormous piece of this historical puzzle that we are minimizing while we maximize the events of a single day? As some proudly fly their American flags with the vague remembrance of the brief united front we experienced as a nation (one that has all but vanished over the last 10 years), aren’t they forgetting something?

The things we are forgetting about with the way we “remember 9/11” now are the consequences of that day.

No, I’m not talking about the consequences we vowed to repay on those who allegedly orchestrated this event. I’m talking about the consequences on the American psyche of turning to war in a blind rage of patriotic fervor. I’m taking about the consequences of laws like the Patriot Act being enacted overnight without people reading it. I’m talking about the freedoms we sacrificed out of fear of the unknown terrorist threat. I’m talking about the war crimes our military and Presidential branch committed against many people who were completely innocent. I’m talking about the consequences of the increased instability and volatility of the middle east as a result of our blind rage.

If those in the middle east had been the victors instead of us (although victory is a debatable description of what’s happened in either Afghanistan or Iraq), then people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would have been tried in a Nuremburg-style court and executed instead of the other way around like Saddam Hussein was. The things that went down in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib under Bush/Cheney’s supervision and oftentimes direct orders border on the atrocities that occurred in the Gulags of Stalin and the concentration camps of Hitler.

There is an old adage that says that history is written by the victors, and right now America is the victor trying to rewrite history their way.  Our current “remembrance” of the events of 9/11 is a mechanism of that rewriting of history.

Ask yourself, what do we remember about 9/11? What do we talk about when 9/11 rolls around? We remember our heroes. We remember the crimes committed against us. We remember how united we became. We never remember the enormous mistakes we made in our reaction to 9/11. We never discuss the innocent people (men, women, and children) we killed and tortured because of our blind patriotic pursuit of justice. We don’t talk about how the middle east is even more unstable and volatile than before as a result of our dealing of “justice” to the terrorists, who have only multiplied since.

9/11, to me, symbolizes a dark day in our history, not simply because of the tragedy of that day, but the long chain of tragic events that resulted from it. We like to look back and wash our hands of the blood we shed as we sought out revenge like we had no choice in the matter. We remember the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11 while we conveniently forget the 2400 casualties in the second battle of Fallujah (the bloodiest battle involving American troops since the Vietnam war), 800 of whom were innocent civilians. We remember the first responders who gave their lives, while we conveniently forget the 57,000+ American troops that were either killed or wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. We fly our flags proudly, remembering how united we were while we conveniently forget how united anti-American groups have become in the middle east out of a desire for the same kind of revenge we sought against them.

So, today, on 9/11, I refuse to remember only the events of a single day. I refuse to feel patriotic as I reflect upon the crimes committed against us and our “just” reaction to them. I refuse to see America as a country united against an outside threat. Instead I remember 9/11 by recalling the dangers of blind patriotism. I remember 9/11 by recalling that war is never the answer. I remember 9/11 by recalling that when the government is eager to go to war and the people clamor for it, that is the time when we most need to be cautious and cool-headed. The justice of an angry mob is seldom exercised justly.

To me, 9/11 symbolizes the greatest mistake we’ve made in the last 40 years because it caused us to allow the actions of a few to blind an entire nation from reason, rationality, and critical discussion. We were united, but that unison was bound in the blood of innocent people slain in the fervor of nationalistic patriotism, many of whom had nothing at all to do with the tragic events at the twin towers, the pentagon or the planes. So while many remember the events of a single day, I will mourn the tragedy of more than a decade’s worth of bloodshed. I will always remember the regret I feel for how quick even I was to believe war was the answer. I will never make that mistake again. I will never allow bloodlust to blind me from understanding that an eye for an eye is never the answer.

I suspect many won’t like the discussion of our mistakes after 9/11, and that’s the greatest tragedy of all: how quickly and easily people are to forget the important parts of history in favor of the convenient parts that play to their sympathies. So, while many of you go about participating in the star-spangled remembrance ritual that’s been created over the last 14 years you’ll have to forgive me while I opt out of the comradery. I will mourn the tragedies* of 9/11 in silence as I recall all the lives that were lost not only on that day, but all the days that followed as a result, and I invite you to do the same. Remember those who died on 9/11 by vowing to never make the same patriotism-filled mistakes we made the first time around.



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