Strangely, 22 years on, 9/11 is the one reassuring sign in America’s otherwise sickening body and body politic.
A mid all of America’s unhealthiness (of which, more later), there is one sign of wholesomeness, 22 years after 9/11.
That day is fading from memory. It is surely a feat of will because 9/11 was acutely painful. More than 3,000 people died, the Twin Towers collapsed, a plane slammed into the Pentagon, another meant for the US Capitol went down in a Pennsylvania field and America and Americans felt unmoored, uncertain, under attack.
But 9/11 is being allowed to fade from memory. According to US National Public Radio (NPR), it is definitely becoming “an exercise of forgetting”. Visiting a lecture attended by new recruits to the US Marine Corps, the NPR journalists noted:
“All these new recruits were born several years after the 9/11 attacks. Even their instructors have vague memories of that morning. One of the drill sergeants outside was in kindergarten when 9/11 happened. And Sgt. Ross [the history instructor]? He was just 8 years old.”
“For many Americans, 9/11 is now simply a date to mark, much like December 7th with the Pearl Harbor attacks. Even the military war colleges are moving on. The talk is not of 9/11 the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and lessons learned, but China and new weapons needed.”
A ‘terrorist spectacular’, to use the term that covers events designed to shift the public discourse by rupturing processes of dialogue and understanding, can be difficult to consign to the pyre of the past. It can be hard to let it all burn, go up in flames, leaving a dark residue unrecognisable as all that pain, memories of that assault on the national ego and the fear and uncertainty.
But it is unhealthy to focus on past suffering, to refuse to let the past be past. Collective historical memory, as sometimes employed by countries and interested groups within communities, can often lead to long decades, shading into centuries, of rancour and resentment, a vengeful desire to exact revenge, a refusal to move on, no matter the consequences.
As analysts often note, this is what happened in the American South after 1865. The American Civil War ended but the culture wars continued to rage — over memory, forgetting and versions of the truth. This hasn’t really settled even today.
Somewhat the same battle over memories that are not allowed to die became the bane of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. This continues in Israel-Palestine. And though some may not agree, part of the Hindu nationalist rationale of India’s Bharatiya Janata party is about sticking it to the ones who left India at independence, breaking up the country and setting up their own. In that sense, India’s present (and future) still looks back at the past.
But for now, the focus of this 9/11 piece is America. Strangely, 22 years on, 9/11 is the one reassuring sign in America’s otherwise sickening body and body politic. We’ll next look at what ails it.