Do you remember 11 September 2002? It was the first year that we got to remember 9/11. Ah, it was a good time. By that point, we had only lost 67 American troops in Afghanistan. No one was much thinking about Iraq, even though the Bush administration was already pushing hard for war. That’s not completely true, of course; Donald Trump told Howard Stern that day that he was for the new war. But overall, it truly was a good year to remember 9/11!
By 11 September 2003, it wasn’t quite so great to remember 9/11. By then, 342 American troops had died in Iraq. On the plus side, the number of American deaths in Afghanistan was down to only 54. The unemployment rate had gone up to 6.1 percent. Things certainly weren’t getting better, but times were nice enough to look back and remember 9/11.
On 11 September 2004, things were much the same as they had been in 2003. There were a few things that were worth celebrating. The unemployment rate had gone down to 5.4 percent. What’s more, Thomas Friedman had already started using what would later be called the Friedman Unit. On 30 November 2003, he wrote, “The next six months in Iraq… are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Yes, it was still a good day to remember 9/11!
Still, things had started to unwind a bit. By 11 September 2005, every person I knew who had voted for George W Bush the year before claimed to regret it. How could they have known that the Iraq War was a sham — something the Bush administration had wanted to do from the moment they got into office? Certainly reading a book was out of the question! This was the Bush era: real Americans didn’t read! In 2005, it was not a good day to remember 9/11.
So much had changed. But I wondered from the start exactly what we were remembering. It’s not that I don’t accept that 9/11 was a huge tragedy. But it was also a great gift to the war mongers. I doubt that Bush would have gotten his Iraq War if everyone didn’t remember 9/11. We wouldn’t have seen the huge increase in the security state. We wouldn’t be flying unmanned death machines all over the world and killing children because some set of criteria indicate that maybe someone in the vicinity kinda seems like maybe they are sorta terrorish.
Remember 9/11: In Your Own Way
Every year that we remember 9/11, we get yet more reruns of documentaries about what happened that day. I don’t think anyone has to be reminded. We all remember. But I think “Remember 9/11” is kind of like “Remember the Maine.” It’s just a call for war. We were attacked and therefore anything we do is okay. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”
Now I know: everyone remembers 9/11 in their own way. But as a society, I think we remember the attack. Many remember the rescue, which was both heroic and incredibly successful. (Pretty much everyone who could get out did.) But overall, I’m not sure what we are remembering. It seems that too much of it is remembering that we were wronged. Well, even if you accept that simplistic analysis, what did we learn?
What Are We Learning?
As we remember 9/11 for the 15th year, what are we getting for it? As a country, we are just as likely to resist democratic movements and support autocrats. We have normalized continuous war. Jihadism seems to be alive and well. We haven’t accepted a lick of responsibility for the blowback of our meddlesome foreign policy.
So when we remember 9/11, just what are we remembering? It doesn’t seem to be anything deep. It seems to be like the frat boys partying on the announcement of Osama bin Laden death. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” It means nothing to remember something if you don’t learn from it. And I don’t think that our country has learned anything. We will remember the attacks on 9/11 until the next attack. And we will respond to that attack in the same way we always do.
On this 15th remembrance of 9/11, I think we should remember that responding to tragedies like this should be done in a mature way — and not as a child would. But we won’t. We never do. Humans never have. “They raped our queen, so we raped their city, and we were right!”