September 12

Collectively, we have an expectation that September 11 was a transformative experience. We expect that one of the greatest tragedies of American history would have changed us in some tangible way. We assume that we, as a nation, are different now, a decade after the towers fell, the Pentagon proved itself vulnerable, and the sleeping giant nation awoke to stunning horror.

But how? How have we changed?

There was a YPulse article arguing that 9-11 caused Millenials to be more socially focused. I wish I could say that were true. Unfortunately, I think the article’s argument is just an example of Pollyannaish optimism brought on by a desperate attempt to find meaning from tragedy, while misappropriating a trend that started long before 9-11, one that began with the dawn of the post-materialist age (there’s a great book by Abramson & Inglehart (1995) on this).

I’ve been reading post after post of people recalling where they were when tragedy struck, how they reacted, and the emotions they grappled with since then, in tribute to the memory of those lost on that day and in the days after. But what I see when I read these posts is that they are not the posts you’d expect to see ten years into the healing process from trauma.

What I see when I read these posts is not a nation in the process of healing, but a nation shell-shocked, and shell-shocked, and shell-shocked, over and over again until what meaning we might have found in the tragedy has become lost in the continual bombing of our hearts and minds.

We remember that in the hours and days following the attacks our nation came together in a profound sense of unity: generosity, resolute bravery, and love for our fellow Americans. It was a defiant denial against an unspeakable act of hate. But that was short-lived. Because what fear we had was co-opted and turned into anger and hate. What anger we had, was harnessed and turned into vitriol. 9-11 was no longer just about 9-11. It had turned into war, and more war, and suddenly we learned it was all lies, and still there was more war, on and on and on until our economy and everything else along with it collapsed. Our actions, instead of defying the terrorists, practically ensured all of bin Laden’s stated goals would come to pass – as they did. Meanwhile, any attempt to say, “Wait, this war is being waged for the wrong reasons!” or “Wait, I’m not sure this is right!” became labeled unpatriotic – or worse, traitorous. Dissent, one of the foundational pillars of American democracy, suddenly became synonymous with treason. The media, who once prided themselves on objectivity and the search for truth, suddenly refused to ask the tough questions. The opposition party, whose job is to insist upon debate, fractured, some turning tail to flee, and some becoming more war-hungry than the hawkiest of war hawks.

This is what I remember.

And now, ten years later, Osama bin Laden is dead (another event that leaves us with complicated feelings), but what can we say we have gained from the experience? How has 9-11 shaped us? When we look around we see a nation half-beleaguered, and half-still trying its darnedest to soldier on, to find new ways to rise from the ashes. But our media has lost all sense of objectivity, preferring the pretense of controversy over the quest for truth. Our parties, which only 50 or so years ago, had quite a great deal of ideological overlap, now are so polarized that they can barely function, and getting anything done at all is lauded a success, no matter that what they accomplished is shitty policy.

After the Holocaust, we had the Nuremberg trials. After apartheid, there was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

After 9-11 and its attendant wars, what will we have?

We have moved so far apart from each other, politically, that it has become almost impossible to have an open and honest conversation about what happened in the last decade. There is blame to deal with truthfully if we are to heal and to uncover what the true lessons were, and attempt to bring meaning to chaos. There are few who are completely blameless in the actions we have taken as a nation. But still, only a select few truly deserve blame. Nevertheless, to deal with that, we must talk about it and we must listen. We cannot shove it under the rug any longer. We cannot be afraid to deal with difficult truths. We cannot fear controversy. We cannot care who bleeds red, or who bleeds blue. We have to know and trust that ALL OF US bleed red, white, and blue. We must be brave, both to find the courage to speak truth, and to find the courage to forgive.

We sure as hell can’t trust our politicians to start that conversation. We can forget about the media. All we have is…us.

Can we start that conversation?

Change. It begins with me.

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14 thoughts on “September 12

  1. We may never have the real morning after. Not in the sense that we will ever be free from worry. There may never be an end to this war. For terrorism wears no badge, flies no flag, and we will never have closure. How can we? That is a question that is pushed under a rug, too. Ten years after September 11, 2001, we are still grieving. However it isn't necessarily for the lives lost. It is for our country. Maybe if we acted like a country at war, doing more at home to support the war, having a draft, working towards the future to seal our past we could stop grieving. If we as a country stepped up, and not just our military and their families gave more to work towards peace we would heal. I don't see that ever happening. September 11, 2001 is just like September 11, 2011. But September 12, 2011 does not have to be. There will be more catastrophic days that Americans will HAVE to face, and 9/11 will never be forgotten, but the day after…

    it is still a gift.

    • Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment.

      I agree closure will never come if our nation cannot come back and reflect on the fact that we are a nation, and that we all were impacted by the events of this decade. I agree with you that when our nation goes to war, the entire nation goes to war and should be willing to sacrifice for it. I feel a great discomfort when we engage in war elsewhere and don't feel it here. But the issues surrounding the whole episode are so complex and there was so much confusion at the time. It's not just about war, or not war, but also how, and where and why. The methods as well as the reasons. The great Machiavellian question: do the ends justify the means? To what extent do we expect ourselves to follow our own laws, and in what case do we believe we are exceptional? I don't think we can or should expect to agree on everything. But we can try to understand each other and try to understand what happened. I don't think we need consensus on what we think was right or moral to reflect on what happened and begin the process of healing what wounds there are. I don't think healing has to come from total agreement. Mostly, it comes from simply being heard and understood and then being willing to let go.

      But to do that we have to talk and listen. It's silence that keeps us as victims. Silence is what prevents healing.

  2. This is true. So very true. And it feels sad that after 10 years, we remember the horror but there has been no progress aside from blame.

  3. Very well said. The ability to forgive can go a long ways and it give us the much needed peace. And our voice sometimes is all we have left to stand against this world. Thank you so much for stopping by. So glad you did because I just found a blog I REALLY REALLY like :)

  4. Amen, sister, amen. I remember where I was, who I was with, how the information came to me on that day. Since for me my first trip to NYC was only a few days before September 11. Ironically, I had flown into Boston stayed a few days then took a commuter flight to JFK, where a few hours later I sat in the lobby of the WTC waiting for cheap theater tickets. But, what I still remember most was how the only news I could watch was the BBC. Hearing someone whose accent gave away their country of origin speak with such warmth, concern, yes shock, but more importantly compassion. Hearing that hand reach across an ocean to hold mine helped me remember no matter what happened, people remained and people are the same everywhere.

    Ironically, just a few days ago I saw the movie Conspirator. All things being cyclical, I could not believe how events that took place in 1865 could still be going on today. I wrote down a quote from the film because it sincerely shook me. "Inter arma, silent leges." "In times of war, the law falls silent." If that is true and the law falls silent, then we can never be silent. I am so glad to read your very strong voice in this post. You have a voice that does not scream, but has a thunderous power. You may be a world away but your post reaches across. I am grateful to you and your writing!

  5. Thank you for voicing the things I've only allowed myself to half-ponder, those barely outlined concepts in my mind that make me squirm just knowing they are there. You've inspired me to clear my throat, summon my courage, and be willing to reorder how I think about things.

  6. The only thing I am sure of politically is that this nation is in trouble. I don't think 9-11 was the cause, but I do think our collective response highlighted many symptoms. We are no better for all of the so-called patriotism that broke out in the days immediately following the attacks. Government is getting bigger and bigger and society more and more suspicious and we are weaker by every possible measure. Yes, we need to talk…but we also need some decisive action. 9-11 may have been a decade ago, but the state of the country still suggests that we're in the midst of an emergency.

    • I agree we need strong, clear action and yeah, it is a crisis; probably a great turning point in the trajectory of our history, and it's hard to tell if this is anywhere near the worst of it, or if we've only managed to apply the brakes some small amount. But I do believe that unless we make a solid effort to clear away all the confusion and misinformation, it'll be that much harder to take the right actions. Politicians do what they do, and I think they've got themselves so caught up in a cycle of behavior that's very hard to backtrack from. But I find the media's actions at least as appalling because instead of informing the public, they obfuscate issues and provoke anger, simply for the sake of ratings. I long ago stopped watching TV news because even halfway decent news stations like CNN fell into the same mold led by Fox News and MSNBC. It's a dangerous situation and untenable. When news analysis falls primarily to pundits instead of professors, we're in trouble (though academia has acted in ways, too, that contribute to its increasing irrelevance to current day policy).

  7. Hat off to you, Jade, dare to talk the way that most poeple fear to bring up the truth, and say it as it is.

    Yesterday, Dave sent an email to his brother saying that he was afraid that the USA was going in a wrong direction. He got an email from his sister-in-law saying that he should be greatful to come to this country, and able to get a Ph. D., and his wife and her family are doing well here.

    She forgot to see that dave and family have worked hard for what the family earned, and Dave had served his country in the most hornor, going to war in Vietnam, and continue giving back to his country, the USA, and society, giving to the unfortunate one.

    This is exsample of some of us have to face when speaking the truth.