When you say those two words, what you do mean? When you hear them, what do you think, feel? When I say them or hear them, I take in a whole world of experience, loss, and meaning.
Something has been nagging at me, and I’ve found that blogging can really help when that happens. So here I am again blogging my nagging concerns; thanks for indulging me. The current largest of which is about my own view of 9/11 and whether or not it meshes with that of other Americans and whether or not it is “Amero-centric” in the bad way—it most certainly IS centered on my identity as an American, but is it exclusionary, dismissive of other nations? I am worried that my view of 9/11 and its import to our country makes me a bad person. I mean does my thinking about that day necessarily mean that I dismiss all other terrorist acts around the globe as less important?
I’ve written a great deal about 9/11 throughout this blog; here is an excerpt from my post on homegrown terrorism:
Whatever 9/11 is or isn’t, was or wasn’t, one thing seems pretty clear, it had an impact on us, it changed our global and domestic policies practically overnight and seeped into our consciousness in ways we aren’t fully aware of on a daily basis, but it’s there, looming over us, a dark place in our hearts and minds. Who doesn’t go to the airport an hour or more earlier than we used to, start taking off our jackets, sweaters, shoes without prompting or question? Who among us hasn’t relinquished a sewing kit, disposable lighter, or toenail clipper, tossing it into the bin along with the hundreds of others that travelers forgot to check in their suitcases? There would have been a shouting match between airport security and any citizen whose possession was being confiscated prior to 9/11; arrangements would have been made for the person’s item to be returned to them either on the other end of the flight or once home. No more. And who doesn’t get on a subway or city bus and not for one second at least give pause, perhaps look around at other passengers? Who doesn’t see a lone suitcase or briefcase sitting unattended and suspect a bomb of some sort? Who doesn’t hear news of a train derailment and think ‘terrorism’ (even for a second)? Who doesn’t think “terrorism” when a fire drill takes place? For that matter, who among us would return to our desks if our building was being evacuated and our bosses told us to continue working? And who, now, hearing that our plane had been hijacked would believe that we would be taken to some destination, held, and eventually released? That is not what “hijack” means anymore, right? These are the after shocks of terror, and we’ve all felt them in one way or another and will continue to do so because we now know that we can be significantly harmed right here at home.
For me, 9/11 was enormously significant not just in the fact that I, like many of you, spent that day and most of the following weeks glued to my television, donating blood, writing checks, mourning the loss of so many lives in such a broad stroke but in the fact that it really changed a lot of my thinking about a lot of things. My ideological pendulum swung from moderate left to not so moderate right when it comes to issues of security, defense, and terrorism. That’s not to say that anyone else’s did or should, just that my thinking about a lot of things related to terrorism changed. Substantially.
Yet blogging has opened a whole range of opinions and ideas to me, and I’ve seen that when we, as Americans, talk about 9/11 as something pivotal, earth shaking, and deadly significant to our peace of mind, freedoms, and even our sense of ourselves as Americans, that people get prickly about it (to put it very mildly). The impression I get from reading around 360 is that our experience is “just another day in the life of” to all the world (except us) and that our thinking it anything else is somehow ignorant or self-inflated or inhuman. And I really don’t see it that way; in fact, that viewpoint makes me feel prickly (to say the very least).
I contend that we will never fully have what we had as a nation before 9/11; our world (in terms of that which surrounds us, makes up our life, not the globe-world, though that did, as well), our country changed and all of us along with it. No matter what future terror attacks happen here, nothing will compare to that one because it took something from us that we will never again have . . . a sort of innocence, maybe, a sense of invulnerability, that “arrogance” we are so often accused by other countries of having. All diminished on that sunny Tuesday morning. One personal example of this shift that I’m talking about occurred last night when I was watching 24: a nuclear bomb was detonated in CA on the show, and I thought to myself, that will happen here. I didn’t think, as I know I would have pre-9/11, that’s ridiculous!! I thought it’s only a matter of time. Is that a “nothing” shift from thinking that’s ridiculous to it’s only a matter of time? I think not.
Yet when we speak of it around people of other nations, there seems a sense that our experience is not unique or that it shouldn’t matter to us as much as it does. What they miss, I think, is that while it may not be unique globally (and I contend that it is), it was certainly unique to the US and to us, to our experience, and as such, has meaning. Even if the same thing happened tomorrow, nothing would compare to that day, nothing. To make a religious analogy, Eve ate of that first forbidden fruit, and that act could never be duplicated, all that it took, all that it changed cannot be put back and taken again. I feel the same way about 9/11; what we had, parts of how and who we were is gone forever. And that, to my mind, is pretty significant. I’m not talking about the enormous and tragic loss of human life, though that is obviously part of it. And I don’t want to give the impression of being traumatized or crippled by it, but it was something, wasn’t it? Am I wrong? Did it change nothing here? I mean was it just any old terror attack and high time we got on board with the rest of the planet in terms of that experience? But we’d been on board. We’ve experienced terrorist attacks here prior to 9/11; heck, the same group tried to blow up the same building almost ten years earlier and killed six people, injuring over a thousand more. But I don’t think that our focus on 9/11 belittles those lost lives or grieving relatives, just as I don’t think that it diminishes other terrorist activities around the globe.
I don’t want to
be seen as someone who belittles the tragedy of terrorism in other countries, but I fear that might be what I do
when I think and talk about and react to 9/11. I have a sense that when Americans refer to “Nine Eleven,” we mean so much more than the facts of what happened with those planes, the people who were killed, the buildings that collapsed; I get a sense of so much implicated, suggested, and felt. When you say “nine eleven” what do you mean? We’ve all “recovered,” some to the point of either denial or complacence, but . . . well, is it just me? Or was 9/11 . . . something huge, something history-making? And I don’t mean just the sheer numbers of deaths, I mean in other terms, immeasurable ones. What was it to you? Not where were you or what did you do, though that would be interesting to read about, but what did it MEAN to you and do you see it in larger (ideological, historical, national, global, etc.) terms?
The picture is obviously of the Twin Towers before they collapsed. The picture in many ways does what the words “Nine Eleven” do; it represents a larger human and national tragedy, something that reverberates through us and our culture in one way or another.
An addendum: The ever sweet and thoughtful Snuggles has posted an Alan Jackson song about 9/11 that I’d not heard; it’s well worth checking out.