For many of us (myself included), today will be filled with moments of silent reflection of where we were 18 years ago. Some may watch video tributes. Others may walk down to the area around where to mighty towers once stood. Personally, I recount all of the looks on the faces of the men and women I was serving with in the US Army, as the gravity of such tragic loss sank in.
Regardless of how we do it, we will mark this as a day of remembrance.
Then there are those, to include elected officials in New York, who seem to no longer care how our lives and our nation were impacted that day. There are those that would prefer we remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness and our history books.
Back in May of this year, a dedication ceremony was held for the new 9/11 Memorial Glade, a monument dedicated to recovery workers affected by toxin exposure following the 2001 terror attacks.New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo were no where to be seen. They were both no-shows.
The mayor’s spokesman said:
“The mayor’s team determined they could not make the event work with his schedule. The event was not brought to his attention, and if he had known about the invitation, he would have attended.”
It wouldn’t have worked with his schedule, but had he known about it, he would have attended? Are you lost? Me too.
And the scheduling conflict his spokesman was referring to? Apparently, he couldn’t skip leg day. He was spotted at the gym roughly a half hour before the start of the dedication.
Cuomo was billed as a guest and speaker at the event. Cuomo’s office said that this information was “released in error.” The Governor never confirmed his attendance and was always going to be in Albany “dealing with issues related to the end of the legislative session.”
So, Bill was doing cardio, Andrew had better things to do.
A fireman in attendance, who had assisted in search, rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero, said he was appalled at the fact that neither elected official was in attendance.
“de Blasio has had some major issues with the police and other emergency service unions in the city for his lack of support in the past,” he said. “This is like another slap in the face to them.”
The two were not done snubbing their noses at the remembrance of those lost, the nearly 2,000 emergency responders who have lost their lives since that day after battling 9/11 related injuries.
On July 3, Luis Alvarez was laid to rest. Alvarez was a retired NYPD Detective who had been battling illness as a result of his time spent at the site of the Towers. He spent most of his final days standing up for those, who like him, were fighting a losing battle with those 9/11-related illnesses. He was even present with Jon Stewart on Capitol Hill, pleading with our elected officials to fund the 9/11 Survivors Fund.
According to the New York Post, Cuomo spokesman Don Kaplan said that Alvarez’ funeral “was a private event and we respect that and believe the best way to honor his memory is to keep fighting to ensure the federal government provides Ground Zero survivors with the benefits and support this nation owes them.”
In addition to skipping the funeral, Cuomo didn’t attend Alvarez’ wake, which was held Tuesday afternoon and evening in Oceanside, LI, even though he was at Jones Beach State Park to take the first ride on a new zip line attraction there.
Cuomo tweeted two messages Wednesday morning from his gubernatorial account — about a mural at the new Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn and President Trump’s abandoned citizenship question on the 2020 census — but didn’t mention Alvarez.
He later tweeted a third time, demanding a probe of Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria relief efforts on Puerto Rico.
And where was de Blasio? He was in Iowa campaigning for what will hopefully be a failed presidential bid.
How bad is it, that neither of these men could be bothered to show up? Even New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was in attendance.
In order to be fair, yesterday, Cuomo did sign a bill into law which mandates public schools across the state to allow a brief moment of silence each year to mark the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The law is intended to “encourage dialogue and education in the classroom” and to ensure that future generations understand the 2001 terrorist attack that took the lives of more than 3,000 people and its place in history, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“9/11 was one of the single darkest periods in this state’s and this nation’s history, and we owe it to those we lost and to the countless heroes who ran toward danger that day and the days that followed to do everything we can to keep their memory alive,” said Cuomo. “By establishing this annual day of remembrance and a brief moment of silence in public schools, we will help ensure we never forget — not just the pain of that moment but of the courage, sacrifice and outpouring of love that defined our response.”
So, you are probably thinking this is a nice gesture and a step in the right direction. Please note, the only thing mandated is the moment of silence. The education regarding what happened 18 September’s ago is merely encouraged. There will be no oversight of what is actually discussed and taught as factual.
My oldest son was 3 months old on 9/11/01. He knows what that day was all about, because we taught him. There are very few people in high school that were even alive on 9/11, much less that would have any memory of that day. So, we must teach them.
Unfortunately, I am not convinced that will happen.
How could I be so calloused as to think that people could possibly want to erase that day, its story and its legacy from our minds and our history books?
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Allow me to introduce you Tom Engelhardt. He is merely one example of just such an ideological effort.
Eight years ago, he wrote the following (in its entirety, spelling errors and all) piece for Al Jazeera. We bring you this to remind you that there are people in this nation who align with this school of thought. I hope you will stomach this enough to read all the way through. It is nauseating, to say the least.
Let’s bag it.
I’m talking about the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honouring of first responders, the gathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence. The works.
Let’s just can it all. Shut down Ground Zero. Lock out the tourists. Close “Reflecting Absence”, the memorial built in the “footprints” of the former towers with its grove of trees, giant pools, and multiple waterfalls before it can be unveiled this Sunday.
Discontinue work on the underground National September 11 Museum due to open in 2012. Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our “freedom” wars went awry), 102 stories of “the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States”. (Estimated price tag: $3.3bn.)
Eliminate that still-being-constructed, hubris-filled 1,776 feet of building, planned in the heyday of George W. Bush and soaring into the Manhattan sky like a nyaah-nyaah invitation to future terrorists.
Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11bn government-sponsored construction programme. Let’s get rid of it all. If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.
Ask yourself this: ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven’t we had enough of ourselves? If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn’t it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness?
No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money.
No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts. And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance.
This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 – who have no way of defending themselves against how they have been used – as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we’ve visited on others, for the many towers-worth of dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere whose blood is on our hands.
Isn’t it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead? Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we’ve proven that we, as a nation, can’t handle it – and worse yet, that we don’t deserve it?
We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could. We can’t, of course. But we could stop the anniversary remembrances.
We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror.
Within 24 hours of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the first newspaper had already labeled the site in New York as “Ground Zero”. If anyone needed a sign that we were about to run off the rails, as a misassessment (sic) of what had actually occurred that should have been enough. Previously, the phrase “ground zero” had only one meaning: It was the spot where a nuclear explosion had occurred.
The facts of 9/11 are, in this sense, simple enough. It was not a nuclear attack. It was notapocalyptic.
The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was nomushroom cloud. It was notpotentially civilisation-ending (sic). It did notendanger the existence of our country – or even of New York City.
Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives.
A second irreality went with the first. Almost immediately, key Republicans like Senator John McCain, followed by George W Bush, top figures in his administration, and soon after, in a drumbeat of agreement, the mainstream media declared that we were “at war”. This was, Bush would say only three days after the attacks, “the first war of the twenty-first century”.
Only problem: It wasn’t. Despite the screaming headlines, Ground Zero wasn’tPearl Harbor. Al-Qaeda wasn’t Japan, nor was it Nazi Germany. It wasn’t the Soviet Union. It had no army, nor finances to speak of, and possessed no state (though it had the minimalist protection of a hapless government in Afghanistan, one of the most backward, poverty-stricken lands on the planet).
And yet – another sign of where we were heading – anyone who suggested that this wasn’t war, that it was a criminal act and some sort of international police action was in order, was simply laughed (or derided or insulted) out of the American room. And so the empire prepared to strike back (just as Osama bin Laden hoped it would) in an apocalyptic, planet-wide “war” for domination that masqueraded as a war for survival.
In the meantime, the populace was mustered through repetitive, nationwide 9/11 rites emphasising that we Americans were the greatest victims, greatest survivors, and greatest dominators on planet Earth. It was in this cause that the dead of 9/11 were turned into potent recruiting agents for a revitalised American way of war.
From all this, in the brief mission-accomplished months after Kabul and then Baghdad fell, American hubris seemed to know no bounds – and it was this moment, not 9/11 itself, from which the true inspiration for the gargantuan “Freedom Tower” and the then-billion-dollar project for a memorial on the site of the New York attacks would materialise. It was this sense of hubris that those gargantuan projects were intended to memorialise.
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, for an imperial power that is distinctly tattered, visibly in decline, teetering at the edge of financial disaster, and battered by never-ending wars, political paralysis, terrible economic times, disintegrating infrastructure, and weird weather, all of this should be simple and obvious. That it’s not tells us much about the kind of shock therapy we still need.
It’s commonplace, even today, to speak of Ground Zero as “hallowed ground”. How untrue. Ten years later, it is defiled ground and it is we who have defiled it. It could have been different. The 9/11 attacks could have been like the Blitz in London in World War II. Something to remember forever with grim pride, stiff upper lip and all.
And if it were only the reactions of those in New York City that we had to remember, both the dead and the living, the first responders and the last responders, the people who created impromptu memorials to the dead and message centres for the missing in Manhattan, we might recall 9/11 with similar pride.
Generally speaking, New Yorkers were respectful, heartfelt, thoughtful, and not vengeful. They didn’t have prior plans that, on September 12, 2001, they were ready to rally those nearly 3,000 dead to support. They weren’t prepared at the moment of the catastrophe to – as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so classically said – “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
Unfortunately, they were not the measure of the moment. As a result, the uses of 9/11 in the decade since have added up to a profile in cowardice, not courage, and if we let it be used that way in the next decade, we will go down in history as a nation of cowards.
If September 11 was indeed a nightmare, 9/11 as a memorial and Ground Zero as a “consecrated” place has turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell. They have helped lead us into fields of carnage that put the dead of 9/11 to shame.
Every dead person will, of course, be forgotten sooner or later, no matter how tightly we clasp their memories or what memorials we build. In my mind, I have a private memorial to my own dead parents.
Whenever I leaf through my mother’s childhood photo album and recognise just about no one but her among all the faces, however, I’m also aware that there is no one left on this planet to ask about any of them. And when I die, my little memorial to them will go with me.
This will be the fate, sooner or later, of everyone who on September 11, 2001, was murdered in those buildings in New York, in that field in Pennsylvania, and in the Pentagon, as well as those who sacrificed their lives in rescue attempts, or may now be dying as a result. Under such circumstances, who would not want to remember them all in a special way?
It’s a terrible thing to ask those still missing the dead of 9/11 to forgo the public spectacle that accompanies their memory, but worse is what we have: repeated solemn ceremonies to the ongoing health of the American war state and the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden.
Memory is usually so important, but in this case we would have been better off with oblivion. It’s time to truly inter not the dead, but the worst urges in American life since 9/11 and the ceremonies which, for a decade, have gone with them. Better to bury all of that at sea with bin Laden and then mourn the dead, each in our own way, in silence and, above all, in peace.
In spite of the decayed morality of people like Engelhardt, I will continue to teach my children what being an American is all about. I will teach them patriotism. I will instill in them a pride that is uniquely American. I will remind them of the importance of that day and the memories of those we lost, and those we continue to lose as a result.
Won’t you join me?
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