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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