On “What’s Your 9/11?”, TPM Reader DE thinks many of us, across the political spectrum, can’t escape the unresolved politicization of what happened twelve years ago …
I suspect that your question about 9/11 is basically unanswerable, because it gets to the issue of why we have memorials at all, which is itself an unanswerable question. We obviously don’t observe memorials for the dead themselves– they are gone and don’t care what we do. So we must do them for ourselves, out of some belief that we will either feel better or benefit from remembering the dead. Think about, for instance, what Lincoln did in the Gettysburg Address– remembering the dead so that we remember how important the cause was that they died for, and so that we remind ourselves that we should be willing to put our lives on the line for that same cause.
Now obviously, not all memorials are like that. When you hold a memorial for a lost relative, you aren’t generally going to deliver the Gettysburg Address. But the memorial serves some purpose for the participants– to help them focus on the positive things, on the memories they had of the person, or perhaps to help them gain closure and move on.
My point is, nobody denies what a big and important event 9/11 was. We are still obviously living with its consequences. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop everything and have another big memorial every year on the anniversary. My sense is that the ceremonies on December 7, 1953 were fairly muted. The war with Japan was long over, and the country was facing different threats and challenges. Maybe I am wrong about that. But if I am right, that wasn’t in any way an insult to the people who died on the USS Arizona. Just a recognition that at some point, no matter how shocking people’s deaths are, the living have to move on and solve their own problems.
So my personal unease with 9/11 memorials is the feeling that there are a lot of people in this country with a vested interest in the country not moving on, even though the two main perpetrators of the attack are either dead or in US custody and the organization they led has been soundly defeated. They want our leaders to keep delivering the Gettysburg Address every year, to keep us on that war footing, so that they can misdirect our resources and some Americans’ lives in the service of foreign and domestic policy goals that have nothing to do with what happened on 9/11.
As I said, I understand that this is not the only reason we have memorials. But in this case, it is a powerful reason to tone the memorials down. The dead don’t care, and the understandable lack of closure and desire for ceremonies of the many living people who still bear the scars is being used by some very cynical people for some very bad purposes.
I’m curious to hear from people over say, 55 on this question. I’m pretty sure DE’s right that there were Pearl Harbor memorials of quite the same sort a decade after the Japanese Attack. That said, I’m 44. And I remember that when I was younger, December 7th was still a thing, the x anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the day that would ‘live in infamy’. And certainly, when I was younger, each year on the anniversary people were still talking ‘where they were’ when they heard that Kennedy was shot. I can’t, frankly, remember the last time someone brought that up. I still remember my Dad’s story, in the Army dentist’s office getting some sort of dental work done.
So I agree that it’s different. But I do think there some lack of recollections of what things were like as recently as the 70s and 80s.