The things people will do in the name of “remembering” or “memorializing” the victims of Sept. 11 are starting to sound like they have been pulled out of an episode guide for TBS” “Ripley”s Believe it or Not.” Just add “in remembrance of the victims of Sept. 11” to any of the segment blurbs and you”ll see what I mean. Here”s one from Jan. 2: “Grand Master Zhou has learned to harness the power of the mind and body and use it to perform exercises that push the limits. With the point of a sharp spear nested in the soft tissue of his throat, and the other on the bumper he will push a Volkswagon Beetle” (in remembrance of the victims of Sept. 11).
If you don”t believe me, take this new stunt from real life: On New Year”s Day, “Josh and Bill,” two college graduates from southern New England, left Los Angeles on foot and began “The Walk for America.” Their goal is to arrive in New York City on the one year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. According to their mission statement, from the website www.walk-for-america.org, “The Walk for America will be a living memorial to Americans that have died at the hands of terrorists those who attempt to intimidate us and dampen the spirit of our nation.”
What it really sounds like is that these two guys were looking for an excuse to trek across the country. And now they”ve found a nice way to get both corporate and private sponsorship. But perhaps their intentions are more genuine than petty cynicism would first suspect. Perhaps Josh and Bill had been spending sleepless nights all fall wondering what they could do to memorialize the victims of Sept. 11. Maybe Josh or was it Bill? was suddenly struck one day with the solution to the patriotic conundrum. That solution: Go on a really, really, long walk.
Contributions can be made via the Walk for America website to the new “Walk for America Scholarship Fund,” a fund that will “ensure that money will not be a factor in preventing dependents from furthering their education.”
However, The Washington Post reported in mid-November that the cause of providing scholarships to survivors of Sept. 11 and to their dependents (and dependents of victims) has been a popular one. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole have started and currently chair the “Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund,” which has a minimum fundraising goal of $100 million. States, along with colleges and universities, across the United States have pledged a commitment to financial support of higher education for survivors and dependents as well. Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore”s request that instead Americans donate $1 to funds for Afghan children has gone largely unnoticed. With more than a hundred million dollars on the way to the bank and countless promises of scholarships from schools across the country, why are Josh and Bill walking 3,500 miles to raise money for a cause that doesn”t really need their help?
Maybe it”s because everybody feels like they need to do something. But it”s time for this country to realize that, in a large way, that something has already been done. The grief and the prayers and the actual remembrance but not the stunts pulled to incite that remembrance will go on for a long, long time. What we need to ask, however, is how has it happened that all of this remembrance, nominally about the memory of victims, has become about us?
The Live Brave Coalition asks that people continue to live their lives as before Sept. 11. “I will fight terrorism by staying open 24-7,” declares a New York restaurant owner in one of the advertisements funded by the group. Live Brave was founded by Christopher Galvin, CEO of Motorola, who writes, “I am exceptionally proud of the work Motorola is doing to help right the world after the September 11 terrorist attack. And I am confident that our expertise in security and wireless technology will continue to make the world safer. Technology will help us craft the next chapter in the world history. It will be about safety and security and heroism. And all of us must be about authoring it. That is what living bravely means.”
Maybe living bravely is about safety and security and heroism. But here it seems to be mostly about Motorola.
In November, Roy Rivenburg of the Los Angeles Times reported that Martha Stewart had asked her employees to give up the traditional large office Christmas party and host smaller gatherings in their own homes. When some people were reluctant, “Stewart fired off a memo: “To me, the terrorists have certainly succeeded if so few of you participate in a companywide effort to get together.””
It”s terrifying that people would use Sept. 11 and what”s worse, the memory of the victims, for their own purposes. Unfortunately, it”s become a fundamental (but largely unnoticed) feature of the American patriotic landscape.
Johanna Hanink can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.