I’ve linked to this in the past, but it’s still good — “The Long Funeral” by John Homans, published in New York magazine in 2006.
New Yorkers tended to want to keep 9/11 (â€œit happened to usâ€) for their own, but no one believed that could happen. The grief culture this country has lived in for the past five years began in those spontaneous shrines, but it didnâ€™t end there. Before the week was out, many different interests had moved in to stake their claims on its meaning.
As an event, 9/11 was a perfect entry point into the softness and indulgence and inwardness that mass media are most comfortable exploiting. In this, it was clearly part of what came before, the high-rated bathos of the deaths of Princess Di and JFK Jr. (or more recently, for that matter, the cat stuck in the wall of a West Village bakery), the mediaâ€™s hunger for strong emotion coupled with its ability to make huge numbers of people think the same thing at the same time. The journalistic necessity of putting faces on the story minted a huge new class of celebrities, dead and alive. Jokes, of course, could be told about Princess Di and JFK Jr. But the grief culture that had just been born imposed its own form of correctness. The circles of loss and victimhood created a new etiquetteâ€”who could speak first, what could be said.
What happened after 9/11 â€” and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not â€” was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.
Back to Homans in 2006 —
Bush and his administration quickly swooped down to scoop up the largest part of the 9/11 legacy. The justified fear and rage and woundedness and sense of victimhood infantilized our political culture. The daddy state was born, with attendant sky-high approval ratings. And for many, the scale of the provocation seemed to demand similarly spectacular responsesâ€”a specious tactical argument, based as it was on the emotional power of 9/11, rather than any rearrangement of strategic realities.
Of course, the marriage of the ultimate baby-down-a-well media spectacle with good old American foreign-policy adventurism was brokered by Karl Rove, who decreed that George Bush would become a war president, indefinitely.
The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.
Homans 2006 —
The memory of 9/11 continues to stoke a weepy sense of American victimhood, and victimhood, as used by both left and right, is a powerful political force. As the dog whisperer can tell you, strength and woundedness together are a dangerous combination. Now, 9/11 has allowed American victim politics to be writ larger than ever, across the globe. When someone from Tulsa, for example, says, â€œItâ€™s important to remember 9/11 every day,â€ what he means is, â€œWe were attacked, we are the aggrieved victims, we are justified.â€ But if we were victims then, we are less so now. This distorted sense of American weakness is weirdly mirrored in the woundedness and shame that motivate our adversaries. In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, itâ€™s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the far left has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.) No doubt, there are real enemies, Islamist and otherwise, more than ever (although the cureâ€”the Iraq warâ€”has inarguably made the disease worse). But the spectacular scope of 9/11, its psychic power, continues to distort Americaâ€™s relationships. It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world.
As you can imagine, righties are having screaming fits over what Krugman wrote today. But as Homans wrote five years ago, there’s a common feeling among New Yorkers that this profound and intimate experience was ripped away from us and exploited and re-interpreted by others who weren’t part of it, who weren’t even here.
New Yorkers responded to the disaster with grace and courage. It still inspires me that so many were able to escape, and they did so helping each other, often strangers, to get away. People were afraid, but no one was trampled to death in the WTC stairwells or on the streets. The courage of the firefighter and other responders also is not diminished.
I even give Rudy Giuliani credit for holding the city together emotionally in the hours and days immediately after the attacks, especially while the “President” was still flapping around aimlessly in Air Force One or hiding in the White House. But the fact remains that his own policies and decisions were partly responsible for the deaths of many firefighters that day. And since then he’s taken self-glorification to Olympic, and sickening, heights. But for a while, he found the right words when the city needed the right words.
But I utterly disagree with Jeffrey Goldberg —
Self-criticism is necessary, even indispensable, for democracy to work. But this decade-long drama began with the unprovoked murder of 3,000 people, simply because they were American, or happened to be located in proximity to Americans. It is important to get our categories straight: The profound moral failures of the age of 9/11 belong to the murderers of al Qaeda, and those (especially in certain corners of the Muslim clerisy, along with a handful of bien-pensant Western intellectuals) who abet them, and excuse their actions. The mistakes we made were sometimes terrible (and sometimes, as at Abu Ghraib and in the CIA’s torture rooms, criminal) but they came about in reaction to a crime without precedent.
Reaction, yes. That’s the whole problem. We reacted. We didn’t respond, we reacted. I wrote awhile back,
A wise person pointed out to me once that thereâ€™s a difference between reacting and responding. As it says here, reacting is a reflex, like a knee-jerk. Reacting is nearly always triggered by emotions â€” attraction or aversion â€” and is about making oneself feel better. Responding, on the other hand, is a thought-out and dispassionate action that is primarily about solving a problem.
Another article I had linked to in the paragraph above has since disappeared, but the point is that in reacting, we gave more power to al Qaeda. We let them goad us into reacting with the worst in ourselves. Al Qaeda didn’t torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo; we did. Al Qaeda didn’t play fast and loose with our 4th Amendment rights; we did. Al Qaeda sure as hell didn’t force us to start a pointless war in Iraq.
Basically, what Goldberg is saying is that lynch mobs are blameless because, you know, they’re just reacting to something outrageous. But we Americans like to pretend, at least, we’re better than that. I guess not.
Nicely written essay (and “Kudos!” for the Krugman quotes).
However, you may want to research the founding of al-CIA-da by the Bush touters (and its employees) way back when (even before the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan).
The plan to make more daily is going quite well now.
the point is that in reacting, we gave more power to al Qaeda. We let them goad us into reacting with the worst in ourselves. Al Qaeda didn’t torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo; we did. Al Qaeda didn’t play fast and loose with our 4th Amendment rights; we did. Al Qaeda sure as hell didn’t force us to start a pointless war in Iraq.
I’m well aware of that history. al Qaeda was an unintended consequence, not the plan. See, the almighty USA is not the only causal factor in the world. Strange as it may seem, people in other countries do stuff for their own reasons and not necessarily because the CIA told them to do it.
The right will tell you – No GUTS, No Glory!
And as long as it isn’t their guts on the line, well, they’re willing to go for the glory.
And nice try, maha.
But you know very well that you, like me, are not a serious person; cannot be a serious person.
Because you and I were right in the first place. And that precludes us from being serious.
One cannot be a “serious” person unless one has first gone through the ‘iron crucible’ of uncertainty, then certainty, and then, again, uncertainty – and being wrong, but for the right reasons. Just look around today at all of the “serious” people writing about it on this anniversary. Bill Keller is writing about it in today’s NY Times, though I haven’t read him yet. And may not.
I’m sick of reading articles and columns by supposed Liberals, who want to justify and rationalize, or excuse, their behaviour leading up to the wars and occupations. It’s a circle-jerk of jack-off’s, who, when the drums of war started beating, found it easy to go along, since they wouldn’t be the ones dancing to the rhythms on the battlefields.
These are despicable people, looking for approval, or forgiveness, who supported, aided, and abetted, sociopaths and war criminals; who gave cover for those who decided to turn tragedy into opportunity – not to unify the country or the world, but into a quest for more power and more profit.
So, spare me the tears, Mr. Keller, and ilk. I have more respect for an ignorant and stupid jackass like Jonah than I have for you. He has the excuse that is the consistancy of idiocy. You, on the other hand, should know enough to be able to seperate information from progapanda, and not to shit too close to where you eat, and jump aboard the war train. Jonah’s not smart enough to know shit from caviar. You are. And yet you downed it like it was fine Beluga, and sold it to the nation. Don’t come crying to me now that you’re still suffering from a bellyache. I’ve had a belly-full of listening to you.
Here’s another voice of reason.
Gulag.. It’s not Jonah…It’s Jeffrey.. You thinking about the wrong asswipe. 🙂
“righties are having screaming fits over what Krugman wrote today”
These same “righties” need to be reminded that it was their elected representatives who did NOT WANT TO HELP the courageous first responders with the after affects of responding to 9/11.
Another gripe on a personal note… Back in the 80’s I was having mental health problems to the point where I knew I needed to get some help to keep my life on track. I went to the Veterans Administration and was diagnosed as having PTSD relating to my experiences in Vietnam. I had regularly scheduled visits with a psychiatrist, was given meds, and joined a Vietnam veteran’s therapy group to work through my issues.
In about 2005 I received a letter from the Veteran’s Administration informing me that as a result of the Patriot Act my medical records were now subject to unfettered access by at least 50 different government agencies. No search warrants, no probable cause..absolutely no restrictions..Anybody in those agencies for any reason can root through my personal medical file( mental health issues). Not that I have anything to be ashamed for, or anything to hide, or that anyone would even care about a nobody like me. It’s just the idea that what started out as a belief that I would have some expectation of privacy and possible protection under the 4th amendment, or the expectation of a doctor – patient relationship being inviolable.
So much for your freedom, America! Like the story in the bible about Esau and Jacob… you traded your birth right for a bowl of pottage.
Bush say that the victims of flight 93 were “sacrificed on the altar of freedom”..
Very good essay. I would add that “reacting” (and not responding) is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted and counted on. And it worked.
Ooops, on Jeffrey – thanks for correcting me.
And I’m sorry that you medical records became more readily obtainable than Geroge W. Bush’s National Guard records.
FYI – more on Dick Cheney. From Bob Woodward.
In today’s episode, Dick the dick got to the “S’s” on the list of countries he badly wanted to bomb – Syria.
Tanzania and Tasmania shuddered at the tought of who could be next. Would Dick Cheney consider someone’s souvenir glow-in-the-dark radium watch as part of a plot to import a nuclear bomb?
Apparently, even W rolled his eyes when his Dickster mentioned Syria.
Hmmm, I/m pretty sure I only hit “Submit Comment” once.
Well… if we *can* give something of an excuse for a mob, the other side of it would have to be “but the *sheriff* shouldn’t be in the mob!”
This, more than anything else, is what concerns me about the Republican Party. I’d like to think that a Bob Dole would have refused to torture, would have considered invading Iraq to be stupid, and so forth. I know another George Bush thought invading Iraq was stupid, and I don’t *think* he deliberately sanctioned torture.