The day is September 11th, 2001. I am certain that you are familiar with the details, but I will rehash them for those that are not. It is a bright morning, indistinguishable from any other. The seemingly innumerable citizens of New York City maneuver through the tangled lattice of avenues and catacombs of subways and tunnels that form the city’s public transit apparatus. The streets are permeated with the sounds of everyday life: dogs barking, casual conversation, children’s laughter. In the sky above, the sun shines earnestly, its rays contrasting sharply with the metro skyline. It is proving to be a delightful morning.
At 8:46 AM, the situation changed, as would the world. To the bewilderment of the civilians below, an American Airlines 767 broke the lackadaisical calm, its engines screaming as it roared forward at full throttle. People watched in initial amazement and disbelief as the plane deliberately crashed into the northern tower of the World Trade complex, instantly disintegrating into an insatiable inferno. Seventeen minutes later, a second plane would hit the adjacent tower, extinguishing all speculation of a possible accident. In the ensuing chaos, two more planes would be downed, one into the Pentagon, the headquarters for America’s military, and another into a field in rural Pennsylvania, the result of a heroic struggle for survival by the passengers of that aircraft.
As the dust settled, America was forced to cope with the terrible prospect of her own vulnerability, and struggle with the heinous act of terrorism that ended the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people. It was a new world, a new reality, that emerged from the rubble of September the 11th. The United States experienced a surge of euphoric patriotism as possibly never before. Hundreds of thousands volunteered for the armed forces, charities, and public service projects. Nearly everyone was determined to assist the nation in crawling out of the crater it had fallen into, and ensure that nothing comparable to 9/11 would ever take place on American soil again.
That was a decade ago. It has been ten years since the terrorist attacks of September the 11th, and the zeal with which the American public celebrates the heroes of that climactic day, is no less than the moment the public learned of them. Everywhere flags are unfurled, services are held in honor of the victims, songs are sung, and procession after procession of patriotic parades march through the streets of urban America. Television specials dominate programming, as every mundane aspect of the attacks is analyzed with the most excruciating detail. The various movies portraying the attacks make their annual appearance, and there is an overall atmosphere of sentimental nostalgia that is unwittingly ingested by the casual observer.
In the early years, when the memories of September the 11th were still fresh in our consciousness, this level of fixation was understandable and necessary. However, ten years later, one has to wonder when it will all stop. How long will it take for the familiar tearful testimonies of survivors and their families to fade from the popular imagination? One could possibly look to precedent, but it seems even December the 7th has been shelved in favor of September the 11th. Numerous wars, disasters and plagues have wreaked havoc on the country, and yet they are hardly a footnote in contemporary thought. The fact that there have been countless acts of atrocity all over the world, both before and after September 11th, that were far more costly in both lives lost and capital spent in reconstruction is ignored. When will the countless un-named victims of the Iraq war be immortalized? When will those who died in the Oklahoma City bombings achieve this level of recognition? Are their deaths any less meaningful than those on September the 11th?
From afar, the phenomenon appears unfathomable. It is only when you inspect the motives of the individuals trumpeting the patriotic rhetoric the loudest do you see the motive for the tireless chest thumping. The individuals who are seen waxing incessant on the topic are almost always the ones who have something to prove. Politicians attempting to push an agenda all pay tribute to the day. Television companies hungry for ratings dedicate a week’s worth of programming to the trials and tribulations of the individuals caught in the metaphorical storm. Talk show hosts and radio announcers all pontificate their sympathies to the people lost and lives forever altered. The nostalgia displayed is hardly reserved for the early parts of September either. There are countless references in daily life that harkens back to the attacks. One is reminded nearly as ardently in early March as in early September. It seems that September the 11th has become nothing more than a propaganda tool for those in charge, and a method of asserting one’s patriotic convictions for the swathes of Americans who walk the streets in remembrance each September the 11th. One is again left speculating about the sincerity of the services.
In the end, the thousands who perished and the blow dealt to America should never be forgotten or belittled. However, the general public must achieve a bit of closure. If America truly hopes to move into a new age of prosperity and innovation, it should be eagerly anticipating the fruits of the future rather than dwelling over the failures of the past. It is with all sincerity that I stipulate that the 9/11 phenomenon accentuates a larger problem in American culture. America as a whole has for too long been obsessed with how good we have had it in the good old days, and it has diverted a portion of its resources to return to its image of prior utopia. America has to awaken to the sobering reality that those days are forever gone, and it must once again cope with sacrifice and hard work to achieve a new level of success. One who looks back while moving forward will be surprised by how far off of the trail one can go before realizing the extent of his error.