Saturday, September 15, 2012

9/11: Never Forget, But Stop Dwelling

from The Onion
I never expect to get much love for the position I've taken over the last several years on the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Let's make it clear: I believe we should never forget (as if anyone could). However, I also believe there's a difference between dignified remembrance and spineless, self-indulgent emotionalism (which The Onion brilliantly spoofs in the picture here).

As I have mentioned in previous posts (often with plenty of vitriol), I believe that 11 years, a million memorials, and two wars should have sated our need to sentimentalize the attacks. By now, we should be able to look at them in a far more rational manner and bring a shred of dignity to our feelings about them.

This kind of shift in viewing tragedy of any kind is how we learn from tragedy. I have found that when I look back on the attacks I have a change of mind about some of the decisions we made as a country. While I was never in favor of the war on Iraq and never believed there were weapons of mass destruction there, I was completely gung-ho about attacking Afghanistan. I did have some questions about whether an all-out invasion was the right route, but I wholeheartedly supported Bush in his plans. Looking back now, with a more rational mindset, I think it's hard to think I was right. It's hard to justify the invasion. Of course, I don't blame Bush and I still believe taking the Taliban out was the right thing to do. My rethinking here is that - in retrospect - the full-scale invasion as the means of taking out the Taliban was clearly about a sensible and effective as using a baseball bat to swat a fly in a china shop.

Naturally, I can't make any point of this kind around the anniversary of the attacks without provoking a flood of outraged emotion. Nevertheless, I still believe that rather than continuing to enshrine 9-11 and its aftermath in a halo of immaculate holiness we should step back and learn from it. What have I learned? Rash emotional responses are rarely the best ones. Examples: the invasion we used to eliminate the Taliban, the ridiculous war in Iraq which ballooned our debt, and the way many people gleefully supported the Patriot Act even though it blatantly pissed on the fundamental American rights our founding fathers fought and died for. These were all terrible mistakes that cannot be justified by anything. No, not even the 9-11 attacks. And we made them by shutting off our brains and letting emotion and anger carry us away (of course, many US citizens' brains are pretty much in the power-off position as a rule, but that's another post).

To illustrate this, I would point to the group of loonies in the Mideast who are over-reacting to a video made by a bigoted US citizen. Many US citizens who are appalled at this disgustingly emotional and irrational response should take a much closer look at it, because it's exactly the same mindset many of them had (and unfortunately still have) to 9-11. It's a sort of 'anything goes as long as it's in the name of 9-11' mentality. Just change one word and you have 'anything goes as long as long as it's in the name of Allah'. Just as this mentality is leading some misguided people in other countries to acts of violence, it led the US into two disastrous wars while abandoning the principles that supposedly made the US better than the terrorists who attacked us.

But maybe there's hope. This past week, NBC broke from the herd in a very important - and potentially constructive - way. While every other network mechanically catered to the rank sentimentality of their viewers by once again re-airing footage from 9-11, NBC did not. In fact, they went way over to the other side and aired an interview with one of the reliably air-headed Kardashian tramps. While I will never celebrate the promotion of such non-entities, I applaud NBC's decision to get off the treadmill of wallowing in an incredibly tragic moment in our history. Of course, they took a lot of flack for it, just as anyone does who dares to suggest we stop wallowing in 9-11. My hope is that NBC's decision will inspire the other networks to stop milking this when the time comes next year.

That's why I posted this pic from The Onion. It does a great job of satirizing the ridiculous level of hysterical emotion that still surrounds this tragic event in US history. Unfortunately, the real tragedy at this point is that until the US stops engaging in self-indulgent pity parties every September 11th, we'll be incapable of remembering 9-11 - and those who died on that day - in a dignified manner. Worse, we won't learn any of the important lessons 9-11 has to teach us.

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