Notes on the Meaning of 9/11; America’s Bacchanale of Grief

Without doubt, yesterday was a sad anniversary.  I remember that day with a unique degree of clarity; my wife and I were getting ready for our day at home when the first plane hit.  We had CNN on for ambient background which suddenly became the focus of all our attention—Paula Zahn said at first that it was a small plane, of all things; it was as though she simply couldn’t fathom such a thing as an airliner crashing into the WTC.  Then the second jet came into view on the screen, and she (and we) gasped.  And then the Pentagon….

There was nothing to do but follow the news.  We didn’t have to be told who did this (although, as we later discovered, Dubya needed to be told, and didn’t pay attention to that fateful PDB). News about bin Laden had made it onto mainstream media in the States, so al-Qaeda seemed the most logical suspect.  We both had meetings on campus that day, so we left Zahn and Aaron Brown to their reporting and took off for BGSU.

I had office hours that day, and a meeting with two students about the campus undergraduate literary magazine.  I had a radio in my office, and left it on while we talked.  I heard the report that a third plane had crashed near, of all places, Pittsburgh, and since I still had family and friends there, that news froze me.  No doubt about it.  I wound up cutting the meeting short, and went back home to the TV. That day I watched, horrified, as the images of mass murder played out in front of us all.  I’ve never been the same, and neither have you. We all knew people were dying in those buildings, in enormous numbers, and the text crawl at the bottom of the screen (brand-new in those days) confirmed those appalling figures. Some of the dead, of course, actually leaped from high floors, and if you took a moment to just imagine what that final moment must have been like, you’ll never need to see any of the Final Destination movies, because that was an ultimate example of finality, a last decision we rightly fear. 

Personally, I never need to see that footage again. The reminder’s completely unnecessary. I got it the first time. So, of course, MSNBC chooses to show, in real-time, the entire experience as it originally aired. Now, Dan Abrams has written a post in which he defends that decision.  True, no one was “forced” to watch, and as such I did not. Still, the decision invites study.

First, the term “death porn” seems accurate. The attacks, and the resulting news coverage, struck something deep inside all of us; the day has become so cruelly iconic for that reason. Clearly, Abrams doesn’t want to do more than concede the point, but the fact is that the shock of those buildings falling was traumatic on a national/international scale; to replay it every anniversary only compounds that trauma. How the hell are we supposed to heal if the scab gets torn open again every September 11th?

Oh, it’s “real,” obviously. Both my parents are dead and that’s absolutely real, but I don’t make a habit of replaying their deathbed moments on the anniversaries of their passing, either. Instead, I think about them as they were in their prime.  I’m not saying we should forget what happened.  Of course not. Actually, I’d like for bin Laden and al-Zawahiri to be in jail this time next year; now, that would advance the healing process, especially if they were joined by the likes of Bush and Cheney. Ah, but I can dream….

To be honest, I’m not certain what the viewer derives from seeing that footage every year, aside from a renewed hated of “the enemy,” whoever the aforesaid viewer imagines them to be.  Hatred deepens but we learn nothing new. So what good is it to reair that terible morning’s video? Yes, we know it’s “powerful” and “heart-wrenching”; what it does not do is clarify.

On a related note, Paul Rieckhoff has an amazing piece on HuffPo that asks a simple question: Why is Ground Zero still a giant hole in the ground? They rebuilt the Pentagon, after all….


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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