PHOTO: World Trade Center smoke from space

Yesterday I said (in the site subhead) that I didn’t have anything to say about the anniversary of 9/11. That’s still mostly true, but I wanted to share two posts from elsewhere that I think are excellent food for thought.

First up, and most provocatively, is Paul Campos from Laywers, Guns and Money, who posits that the anniversary of 9/11 has become predominately about “phony mourning and simulated grief.”

…our government and media did the main work of the terrorists for them. The primary goal of the terrorists wasn’t to damage America directly – as terrible as the attacks were, they could never do more than comparatively trivial damage to a nation as rich and powerful and secure as ours – but rather to wreck havoc by creating the illusion that they had the power to hurt us.

…The Cult of 9/11 isn’t about real risk, but rather about creating and maintaining a pervasive cultural atmosphere of dread. It’s a kind of national horror film – one which goes on and on, even as the events of that terrible day fade in both memory and emotional impact.

The other piece was from Ezra Klein of the American Prospect who thinks there were real lessons to be learned from 9/11, but we’ve forgotten all of them.

The country is full of bumper stickers that say “9/11: Never Forget.” We have forgotten. And we have forgotten gleefully, aggressively. It’s not that we don’t remember the day, or have lost our appetite to cynically deploy it in service of our political agendas. But we certainly forgot the new and unsettling sense that the world was a dangerous place populated by serious threats. Problems that had once seemed abstract were all too real. But now the dangers are abstract again. A presidential election grinds on, and one side merrily chants “drill baby drill!” Every time I hear it, I wonder how we’ll be judged in 60 years.

So what do you think? The lessons of 9/11 overblown or ephemeral?


  1. Ted

    The large part of me agrees with both of the above excellently-written posts… the part of me that grew up in North Carolina, away from it all like 98% of the rest of the country.

    However, I have to say that it is different here in NYC. A large percentage of the people I interact with every day had direct relatives involved and you can see the impact in their faces and the real horror in the stories they tell. Movies like Cloverfield with provocative imagery and Nat Geo 9/11 specials are captivating and terrifying because I can imagine it happening to me, in the place that I see and live in every day.

  2. Ted

    Incredible photo by the way. Got any more like that?

  3. Chris

    The guy from Lawyers, Guns and Money made a point of saying, “If someone close to you died in the 9/11 terror attacks this isn’t intended for you.” And I would imagine, although I can’t speak to it personally, that being in NYC does, as you say, lend a greater weight to what happened.

    That photo of the WTC was taken by NASA from space. So if you just Google “WTC” and “NASA” or something similar, you’ll get lots of interesting shots like this one: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=5155

  4. Ian

    MSNBC was showing a recap of 9/11 on TV last night, like all the footage from it. It was kind of disgusting and voyeuristic in my opinion. I don’t understand what the point of trying to relive that moment is.

    The lessons of 9/11 weren’t taught by Al Qaeda, they were taught by our own people and our own government. Its a lesson we had forgotten from the Cold War Era, and we didn’t learn it from 9/11 either. Its that in times of apparent crisis, American citizens will overreact and go along with anything the government tells them to: including completely unjustified war. The government is capable of exploiting tragedy for their own purposes and not the best interest of the people they are meant to represent and to protect.

  5. Ted

    Ian I completely see what you are saying about Americans going along with the government, but I think it’s really easier to say that in hindsight (9/11 being my only experience as I don’t know what the Cold War was like). I think we were all pretty affected the day 9/11 happened, and we all wanted some sort of action to be taken. And in that time we turn to the goverment, who *must* know more about the situation and who’s responsible, right? So we look to them for guidance and assume they’re taking the best course of action.

  6. Sheepywoman

    I was, and still am, incredibly moved by the events on 911. A few of my coworkers in Raleigh were in the Twin Towers. Shit, I have a job because of 911. As part of the disaster recovery, it was mandated that businesses be capable of doing business as usual if something happens (this isn’t just my bank but all on the street).

    I don’t like how the political candidates are using 911 and the imagery to further their campaign. But I do think the event should not be pushed aside. We still remember the bombings on Pearl Harbor and this is no different. And people forget the terrible feelings of fear and unknown after the attacks. There were worries about going to public sporting events or any other place with a large gathering of people. There was a hesitant expectation that there would be another attack. And we wanted something done about it. Granted we have since fucked up, but at the time we did not want to continue to live our lives by a color-code for the danger level. As for the lessons they would have been better taught/remembered if the government hadn’t screwed up in so many different ways. We did not overreact, Ian, but the government (president elect) was responsible for the poor judgment that dissolved our success.

  7. Ian

    Ted, I agree with you, but what I mean was our government abused that good will for years afterward. It was used to justify a war on Iraq by telling us the lie, among others, that Saddam was somehow tied to al Qaeda. Bush got elected a second term essentially because of fears after 9/11. The biggest difference between Bush and Kerry in the polls, I believe, was on the perception that Bush was better prepared to protect America from terror.

    Sheepy, you seem to think that by me saying we overreacted that I am trivializing the impact or importance of 9/11. That’s not what I mean. It was a terrible thing, I watched the towers fall live in the library at school. I was dumbstruck by the whole thing. I’m glad you bring up Pearl Harbor because that is part of the point I’m trying to make. 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor. As Chris points out above through a quote, “as terrible as the attacks were, they could never do more than comparatively trivial damage to a nation as rich and powerful and secure as ours”. The Japanese and the Nazis, if left unchecked, could have seriously damaged our country and even taken over it. The Japanese basically wiped out our Pacific fleet in the Pearl Harbor attacks. The attacks of 9/11 did result in deaths, but its significance was more symbolic. I don’t want to diminish the importance of 9/11, but more people die every year from car accidents than died in 9/11. The planes were meant to strike our symbols of financial superiority, military superiority, and government superiority. The purpose of terrorism is more psychological than militaristic.

    When I say overreaction, I don’t refer to how we behaved immediately after. I’m not referring to our coming together as a nation. I’m not referring to our going to war with Afghanistan. I’m referring to news stories about anthrax, dirty bombs, duct tape, etc. I’m referring to people voting based on fear. I’m talking about the Iraq War. All of this because of the horrifying imagery and loss of 9/11. I’m talking about widespread hatred amongst much of our society for Muslims. “Is Obama a Muslim?” It shouldn’t even matter. Its reminiscent of the internment camps for the Japanese Americans in WWII. That’s what I mean when I say we learned nothing. The racial and religious profiling of Muslims which has become commonplace in our culture reeks of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Clearly it isn’t to the same extreme, but its still there and should not be.

    I’m not saying we should push 9/11 aside. In fact, I think the opposite. I was happy when Obama mentioned in his speech at the DNC that he would be going after Osama and focusing on attacking al Qaeda. I really wanted to hear one candidate remember who was responsible for 9/11 and who we should be using our military against. All I am saying I think its important to keep perspective on 9/11 and not to sell our soul as a nation because of fear.

  8. Daimao

    Great points, Ian. I think that the culture of ignorance and apathy in this country also plays a big part in allowing the government to be so exploitative. If people never catch on and learn those lessons, it will continue to be.

    I also remember watching the attacks at school, however, I can’t say that I was particularly moved or astonished. For me, it just seemed like something out of the ordinary. I suppose I couldn’t appreciate the impact of it all back then. It was and still is interesting seeing and hearing other people’s reactions though.