Today we’re going to be beset by images, speeches, an embarrassment of flags and other grim reminders of something that some people can’t forget, something that others don’t want us to forget.
Just like everyone else with any awareness that day, I remember the smoke, the plane hits, the overwhelming moments of total devastation, the sense of unreality and the genuine concern that what I was seeing was only the beginning, that within a few weeks — depending on the coördination of the enemy/perpetrators/whomever — the entire nation might be driven into collapse and ruin.
I don’t need to be reminded of what happened on that day. I don’t think anyone does. But it’s going to happen. We’re going to be reminded whether we want to be or not, and I find that troubling.
I do not mean any disrespect when I say this, but the vast majority of the people killed that day in 2001 were victims — innocent bystanders who just happened to be going to work on a Tuesday morning. They didn’t make a sacifice for an ideal; they didn’t die in the name of improving life somewhere or preserving American ideology. Yet somehow their tragic deaths have been co-opted by many different factions, some of whom are using those deaths to meet very callous ends.
We’re going to be urged to “remember the victims” by many different people, and some of those people worry me deeply. Because I don’t think they’re reminding us of the WTC, Pentagon or flight 93 victims that we might feel inspired toward a higher goal.
For some, at least, the cry to remember 9/11 must be answered with a question: Why? What is your agenda? What is your stake in this?
108 years ago, the USS Maine sank in a harbor in Havana just minutes after an explosion tore through her. Nearly three hundred were killed. Within days it was concluded that the Maine was sunk by a naval mine.
Spain was fingered immediately as the most likely culprit, the nation most probably responsible for laying the mine that destroyed the Maine. But some of the people most eager to blame Spain had been beating the war drums steadily for months already.
Additionally, the national press — run largely by William Randolph Hearst — kept the Maine in the forefront of the American psyche, spreading lurid and inaccurate stories about what happened to the ship. Soon there rose a rallying cry: Remember the Maine — to hell with Spain!
The United Sates declared war on Spain soon afterward.
Several subsequent investigations have left the case open; there’s simply no way to be certain that it was a mine that did in the Maine. It could also have been a magazine explosion caused by a fire in the ship’s coal bunker.
There were no souvenirs made of metal salvaged from the ship’s wreckage, unlike the “commemorative” coins plated with silver and gold gleaned from the WTC vaults. There were no movies made that slanted, skewed and glorified the events in the name of increasing nationalism or clearing profits. There was, however, a great deal of cynical manipulation of public sentiment, a convenient disaster used to push a semi-bellicose nation fully into war mode.
George W. Bush is fond of pointing out that we’re facing a new enemy in coördinated terrorists; he’s right about that.
Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that we are not facing them with a new government.
Remember 11 September 2001, by all means. Reflect on what happened that day, and what has happened since then. But please don’t let the cries of nationalism or the steady march of war fog your sensibilities. Rather, let yourself genuinely reflect on grief, loss, and madness — and whether it is ever proper for any one nation, any one people, to attack any other simply because it feels it has been wronged.
Remember the Maine as well, and consider whether we have learned anything from history, anything at all.
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