This is big. Bigger than the Oscars.
Bigger even than the Super Bowl. This is Sept. 11, 2002. Every
channel, all day. This is a media event. Something to be hyped,
advertised and treated with breathless reverence. So ends the
memory of Sept. 11.
I don’t want to be cynical about the memorials and
tributes and remembrances and vigils and retrospectives and
analyses and banner headlines and pictorials and montages. But I
It all seems like too much of a show lacking any real substance.
We have diminished the human tragedy and made it into a chance to
pat ourselves on the back and assure ourselves that everything is
fine now, if not better than before.
The United States hasn’t changed for the better. We
haven’t re-evaluated anything; we’ve become more set in
our ways. We haven’t become more tolerant; we’ve put
our blinders on. It’s us versus them, good versus evil. Gone
is our thoughtful introspection.
As we pause today to reflect on the horrible sorrow that was
Sept. 11, we should not forget the humanity of the day. That day is
now a fixation of every media outlet across the country. On one
level, it has to be. To ignore this day would somehow feel wrong,
as though we were refusing to acknowledge the sincerity and
solemnity of emotions stemming from Sept. 11. But somewhere during
this past year we forgot the real lessons we learned and instead
focused on broad self-assurances of righteousness. Sept. 11, the
event, can be divided into two distinct realities: The day and the
follow-up. First and foremost, it must always be remembered for the
day. That day shocked the world. It was a day unlike any in modern
times; airplanes didn’t fly, no television commercials ran,
the stock markets all closed and we spontaneously gathered, talked
and thought, all united by grief and a deep feeling of loss.
Everything commercial stopped, and everything human drew us in. For
those few days, the world stepped back and asked,
“Why?” Why does this happen? Why here? What did we do?
Why is there so much death in the world? Why so much hate? On
campus, 15,000 people gathered on the Diag and talked about peace
and tolerance and love. Amidst the horror, it seemed we were poised
for a change. It was during this time of destruction that it seemed
as though, somehow, we would bring about a new Greatest Generation,
one that would rise above consumption and nationalism. The world
was going to come out of this better than before.
But then all that changed. After those few brief days, Sept. 11
began to take on a second meaning. It became the cause for
frustration as the United States failed to take the opportunity for
It all started when we began to react to Sept. 11 like good
little capitalists ought: We used it and consumed it, bought it and
sold it. Flags flew off the shelves, patriotic songs blared and
red, white and blue logos graced every television station. We
consumed — guilt-free — because our president told us
it was our patriotic duty. We swaddled ourselves in the material
and forgot the humanity and love that was our immediate reaction.
After a brief spike in caring, people, despite what they may say,
returned to their self-centered lives. Volunteerism never took off.
After a brief respite, anger and impatience with each other found
their way back into society.
The words “September 11” no longer conjure up images
of falling towers and ended lives. I’ve grown cynical towards
that day. In part this is because I’m no longer hopeful of
what might become. But I once was. The commercialization and use of
Sept. 11 for political gain, coupled with unilateralist U.S.
policies strike me as horribly wrong.
I can’t help but look back at those few days when, despite
all the tragedy, there was hope. That was before
nationalism’s iron grip took hold of the United States.
Before racial hatred and intolerance boiled over. Before our civil
liberties where traded in for a figment of security. Before our
politicians used the day for their gain. Before we separated the
world into us and them. Before we installed a puppet government in
Afghanistan. And long before we planned to preemptively spread war
throughout the world. And I want to deny it, deny that there was a
chance. That way at least I don’t feel frustrated. I
don’t feel defeated. But it doesn’t change the fact: We
could have been great. We had our moment, we all felt it. And then,
“poof,” it’s a TV mini-series. And all meaning is
lost. And I’m cursed for having had hope.
—Sept. 11, 2002