A friend today said, “Is Sept. 11 still going on?” The levels on which that question is amusing are many.

Paul Wong

I told her no, Sept. 11 ended four months ago.

But I considered her point. There was a time from Sept. 12 until mid-Nov. when I followed the news thoroughly and passionately, as all of a sudden there was something remarkable going on (not that the Gary Condit circus wasn”t interesting, it just yeah nevermind). Admittedly, the hype about my generation not “knowing tragedy” and being sheltered from the horror of the rest of the world was sort of true and I was impassioned and engaged by the world”s sudden new reality as described to me.

That immediate fascination dissipated, though, for most people. Whereas for a few months following Sept. 11 there could not be a conversation in any forum that didn”t end with some consideration of Osama, now I”ve found that my family, friends, classmates, professors, colleagues, popular news media and elected officials are ready to “return to normalcy.”

Isn”t this premature? Are we calling it a day and hitting the showers (or the re-election trail)? In the immediate aftermath, the news cycles moved quickly as plans to “eliminate evil” at least you didn”t set your sights too high, Georgie boy were set in motion. Things were very new and it seemed that with everyone (politicians, media, public) interested, we could arrive at some short-term finality.

But after those caves in Tora Bora were cleaned out a few weeks ago and the boys in Washington said they had no better idea of the whereabouts of bin Laden than they did of my M-card (Do you have it?), the news seem to slow down and get really repetitive. Israelis march into another West Bank town. Enron caught jaywalking. Helicopter crash. Ashcroft arrests all left-handers, detains righties. Helicopter crash.

I guess I can”t get over how quickly America “got over” that silly issue of finding Osama bin Laden. People don”t seem to be outraged that bin Laden is kickin” it in Kashmir. The media has allowed Bush to allow bin Laden to still be free.

Now the issues surrounding the “war” are the quality of conditions for the POWs at the oddly named Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and what to do about John Walker Lindh. (Side note: NBC described the manner in which Walker was taken off the USS Bataan as having been “whisked away.” Get it? It took me a minute. John Walker Johnny Walker whiskey “whisked away.” They”re too damn clever at NBC). As far as that situation goes, I don”t know what ought to be done. As far as what will be done, Americans don”t seem to be particularly sympathetic to this over-privileged Benedict Arnold story and we have an attorney general who described Walker”s actions as having “turned his back on our country and our values.” That heavy language doesn”t bode well for our unshaven anti-hero. See you in hell, Johnny.

It sounds nave but we”ve been distracted by a corrupt energy giant, a war in the Holy Land and a half-dozen issues (Walker, POWs, etc.) that are peripheral to the central ones. Further, I think the White House is pleased as punch. It troubles me that when they couldn”t figure out who was sending anthrax, people stopped worrying. They can”t figure out how to find Osama and people seem to have stopped worrying or at least stopped talking. When they admit that they can”t figure out how to balance the checkbook, people will just stop worrying. It”s passively fatalistic and the popular media is not doing a good enough job following stories and maintaining the public”s engagement.

It”s been a few months and it”s too early for any real perspective. And while my 20 year-old sensibility is new to the life cycle of a world-altering event, I feel like it”s too soon for Americans to close the book the caper”s not done. Nerdy intellectuals shouldn”t be the only worried about pinning the whole thing on Prof. bin Laden, in the conservatory, with a couple of Boeings. As I had been doing some months back, I want to turn on the news and be inundated with information about the war we”re still fighting. Tiresome as it became, I want every conversation to come back to Sept. 11. It was an unfortunately rare phenomenon when John Q. Everybody was concerned with these issues of importance. That phenomenon is fading. Is Sept. 11 still going on? Please don”t forget that it is.

David Horn can be reached via e-mail at hornd@umich.edu

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