Wednesday, September 12, 2012

9/11 - Move On, Never Forget, and Don't Nitpick About It

Today was the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  TV, newspapers, and the Internet were full of stories about the attacks and memorial services all over the country.  Twitter was flooded with #NeverForget tweets.  We shouldn't forget, and I don't think any of us will.  But I've started to notice some ugliness in some places, and some silliness in other places.

I'll start with the ugliness.  I've been seeing an increasing amount of "Move On" and "Get Over It" stories.  Naturally, most of this is in the form of anonymous internet postings.  This is fringe stuff, but I keep seeing more of it.  It's usually the mewlings of extreme leftists or the febrile meanderings of conspiracy theorists.

The extreme leftist types don't see the way the country united after 9/11 as a positive thing.  Instead, they see our memorials as an excuse for jingoism and neoimperialism.  Pardon my French, fellas, but horseshit.  The country with the most liberal immigration policy in the world cannot be considered jingistic.  And I'll believe America is an empire on the day I get my first tribute payment.

The conspiracy theorists believe that we planned 9/11 to excuse invasions of other countries and domestic spying.  There certainly has been some overreach in those areas.  But we're out of Iraq, and attempts to spy on citizens are frequently called out in the press and in the courts.  The "evidence" of the conspiracy theorists usually revolves around showing video of the towers collapsing, and claiming that the collapse could only be caused by a planned demolition.  These spurious claims have been easily and laughably debunked by experts.  So horseshit to you guys too.

The fact that the country united after 9/11 isn't a bad thing.  It shows that we can still work towards a common purpose, something that doesn't happen often enough these days.  To see this as something nefarious seems like anti-American nut rhetoric.  I hesitate to accuse anyone of anti-Americanism because I know there is a potential for abuse.  Like accusations of racism and socialism these days, it's frequently thrown out by someone who has nothing more intelligent to say.  But I can think of no other reason for it.  How else can one explain seeing a negative in the greatest strength of America: our ability to come together in a crisis.  This unity is why we should never forget 9/11.

Now for the silliness.  This morning I saw a story about how CNN was too busy covering the Kardashians to have a moment of silence at 8:46 AM, when the first plane hit.  Enter manufactured outrage.  Granted, everything Kardashian is inherently silly.  But I don't think we should obsess too much about how other people remember the time of the first impact.  I didn't remember either.  There's a reason for that, but in order for that to make sense, it's important to know what I was doing on 9/11.

I was working in a call center in Atlanta at the time for a financial services firm.  The center was open 24 hours, and I worked the night shift.  So I didn't even wake up until mid-afternoon.  It was a fairly typical day for me.  On my way to work, I turned on the radio and put in a CD.  While the CD was going in I heard a brief mention of an attack on the Pentagon, but it was so out of context I assumed it must be some talk radio pundits speculating on some obscure "what if" scenario.  The likelihood of an attack on the Pentagon seemed ludicrous.  Also, I was driving through Atlanta traffic, so I wasn't really paying attention.

When I got to work, I knew something was wrong.  People weren't moving like they normally did.  They huddled in small groups, whispering amongst themselves.  There was a vibe there of general wrongness.  Then I saw the overhead TV monitors, always tuned to CNBC to watch the market.  But today they showed the towers in flames.  I was stunned.  It was beyond imagination.

I spent the next few hours trying to find out what happened to a few friends I knew in New York.  They didn't work in the towers, but they worked in that part of town.  Fortunately, they were all fine.  For the rest of the shift, all we could do was sit and watch the reports.  I don't know if we could have brought ourselves to work, but there wasn't anything to do anyway.  The markets were closed.  Our Virginia office, a stone's throw from the Pentagon, was completely shut down.  All we could do is watch the reports in horror and wonder how and why this could happen.

Over the next few days, our horror and outrage would turn to hope at seeing solidarity as members of Congress huddled on the steps of the capital to sing "God Bless America".  Our rage would gradually turn into determination when we heard the President's address a few days later.  We all felt unified and a strength of purpose.  It's important that we remember that feeling of unity, especially now that we face different crises.  That unity can be dangerous if we lose ourselves in it (we got a little carried away in subsequent years), but it's a force for good when done responsibly.  And unity is something we lack these days.

I never knew that the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, though.  I was asleep at the time.  That's why it's not such a big deal for me.  And when I woke up this morning, I didn't even realize it was 9/11.  When I saw the news, I noticed that the memorials were there, but less so than in previous years.  That's why CNN would show a Kardashian at 8:46.  Not because they've forgotten, but because we're moving on.  Not in the nasty, heartless way spewed by extremists.  We're moving on in an entirely natural, and entirely healthy way.  I'm not worried that we'll ever forget.  That's a lesson I learned from my parents.  They can both tell me exactly where they were when they heard JFK was assassinated over fifty years ago.  Fifty years from now I'll remember where I was when I heard about the 9/11 attacks, assuming I'm still alive.

I'm moving on too, which is why I had to be reminded that it was 9/11 today.  The helplessness I felt when it happened is long gone.  The lesson I'll remember, that we all should, is that no matter how bad things get, America can unite and bounce back.  When we hear naysayers and nutjobs bashing 9/11, we should remind them of the tragedy and the fact that we unified and overcame it.  And when someone else forgets a moment of silence, just let it go.  They haven't forgotten the attack.  They've just gotten over the pain and loss, and don't feel the need spend so much time on ceremony.  It's not a sign of inconsideration; it's just a sign of healing.

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