On Friday, in a swank restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, about 60 mothers shared a baby shower that was sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum. These women were of different religions, ethnicities, ages and economic means. Their unifying feature? They were each one of the at least 102 women who were pregnant when the Twin Towers fell with their husbands inside.
It’s now two days and counting to the most tragically momentous one-year anniversary that I will have seen in my lifetime; we’re all talking about it and we all have an opinion about how it should be commemorated.
At the University of California at Berkeley, the student government has decided that it will leave God and patriotism out of the lexicon and ceremony of the school’s official Remembrance Day. The decision has received a remarkable, but not unexpected, amount of press. Coordinators of the ceremony and dissenters against it have found their 15 minutes.
Many self-proclaimed liberals (an easy segue from a Berkeley paragraph) have already set the wheels in motion for taking this anniversary as a cue to revive the idea that, as for Sept. 11 – yes, it was horrible, yes it was a tragedy, but let’s face it people, we had it coming.
I would ask that anyone of this opinion take a long, hard look at a photograph of the mothers and infants at that baby shower in New York. I would be both surprised and heartbroken to watch that person come back still insisting that mass murder can be taken as a form of constructive criticism.
The New York Times has recently published a book, Portraits, which compiles the 1,900 “portraits of grief” that the paper ran until Feb. 3, following the attacks of Sept. 11. The Portraits of Grief series humanized these nearly 2,000 victims (more than 1,000 shy of the total death toll) of the destruction of the World Trade Center with photographs and anecdotes – compelling, well written, heartrending. Not exactly what you’d call light reading.
It is the kind of stories that these portraits tell that should dominate our collective national mindset two days from now. Wednesday will not be a time for us to reexamine American foreign policy. We can and should reserve that scrutiny for every other day of the year; it’s important, it’s essential. But this Wednesday needs to be a day dedicated to the grief of an entire nation still reeling, to the grief of thousands of families who lost loved ones, the grief of thousands of friends who lost friends – to the grief of the thousands of people who remain devastated on a very personal and private level.
On Sept. 12 we can turn our attention to analysis, to critique – but not to condemnation of ourselves in the context of terror. In our examination of the foibles of American foreign policy, American cultural hegemony – whatever nomenclature we want to apply – it will never be appropriate (and never was to begin with) to construct our criticism in the framework of the death of 3,000 very innocent people.
Instead, on Sept. 12 we can step back and look at the year with a certain measure of introspection; on Sept. 12 we can analyze and criticize how we as a national community responded to a disaster. We can discuss and condemn our approach to the war on Afghanistan. We can wonder why we made such a mistake in writing the Northern Alliance a blank check valued in the currency of human lives.
In the frenzy of a first anniversary, the same arguments are flying that characterized the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. The United States, on some level deserved it. Americans are guilty of something.
But the people who within the last week have rehashed this unseemly epithet of disaster also feel comfortable buying into the idea that everything changed that morning. A year later, it’s time that we realized that it is the second half of this perspective that is accurate: The continuum has shifted. A lot more variables have been added to the equation. There’s a lot to talk about and it’s not just the tactical moves of a presidential administration or the financial plays of the World Bank. In the year since Sept. 11 we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as a country: Between the McCarthy-esque tendencies latent in our nation’s leadership, our shameful victimization of Muslim- and Arab-Americans, and the popularity of the truly heinous patriotic country ballads plaguing the air waves, there’s a lot out there to criticize.
But nowhere is it OK to nod our heads and whisper amongst ourselves that maybe the terrorists had a point. We have a moral imperative to constantly reevaluate the United States’ role on the world stage, but this imperative exists in space – not within the framework of terror. There’s enough that has happened in the last year in reaction to that day that is worthy of criticism. Let’s just save it for Sept. 12.
Johanna Hanink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.