Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
September 14, 2011
“Don’t pick at that scab. It’ll never heal. You’ll wind up with a scar.”
I’m sure your mother told you that. I know my mother told me. It’s a lesson every mother teaches – and it’s a good one, because it’s true.
And that’s why I had to grit my teeth and look the other way all day Sunday, during the almost unavoidable national orgy of 9/11 “remembrance.”
Please don’t get me wrong. The September 11 attacks on the United States were tragic, outrageous, blood-curdling, evil, infamous – take your pick. The newspaper front page from Sept. 12 that has stayed in my mind all these years showed a photo of the burning towers and, above that, a single word, in enormous type: “Bastards!”
That summed it up well, I thought.
But that was 10 years ago.
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I’m not saying we should forget. I’m not saying we should forgive. But I am saying that it’s about time for us – as a nation – to stop and think. And give it a rest.
There are thousands among us who lost people they loved that day. They will mourn, I expect, each in their own way, for the rest of their lives.
That is as it should be.
But as we continue to insist on our national day of mourning, we are in a way interfering with those individuals’ right to mourn privately.
I saw a photo Monday of a mother weeping at New York’s 9/11 memorial, as she lay across the stone where the name of her son was engraved.
I felt terrible for her loss – and I felt terrible that she had to mourn that loss in the middle of a crowd, with a news photographer’s camera stuck in her face.
I don’t expect that mother to “get over it” – though if to any extent she can rise above that terrible loss and carry on with her life, I will salute her for that.
But I do think the rest of us do need to suck it up a little bit and begin to move on.
Strong men and women – and strong nations – may suffer injuries and defeats, but they raise their heads, raise their sights and carry on. They do not forget, but they look forward, not back.
Those who cannot look ahead are doomed to the darkness of the past. Surely we have all known individuals who have suffered a loss and been unable to recover their equilibrium – and have gone into a spiral of darkness and defeat.
In an individual, that is sad. In a nation, it is fatal.
In the late 1990s, during the War in Kosovo, I read that one cause of that brutal conflict was that the Serbs were still carrying a bitter burden of anger over their defeat by the Ottoman Turks at the Field of Blackbirds in 1389.
At the time, that 600-year-old grudge seemed inconceivable – but now I fear we are beginning to carry our own never-to-be-forgotten brutal grudge.
And more damaging than our obsessive remembering of the 9/11 attacks is the perversion by which those attacks have become a merchandising opportunity.
Every year, clever and soulless companies find new ways to make a quick buck (or a quick million) selling 9/11-branded junk.
Newspapers on Sept. 11 were filled with full-page, full-color ads featuring photos of the American flag and discreet (or not) messages from companies that wanted to sell us all sorts of stuff: T-shirts or cars or sofas.
Oh sure, they were mostly careful not to mention the T-shirts, cars and sofas – but they got their names and their logos in there and they wanted to be damn sure that we knew that they “remembered.”
And worse than a merchandising gimmick (because, after all, that’s just capitalism and capitalism is who we are), 9/11 has become a political opportunity.
So if we must remember something, let us remember the 2002 Georgia election in which Saxby Chambliss, who had never served in the military, defeated Max Cleland, a decorated veteran who had lost both legs and his right arm in Vietnam. And let us remember that Chambliss ran a campaign ad that featured photos of Osama bin Laden (and Saddam Hussein) and question Cleland’s courage.
No, let us not forget that.
And let us not forget the way that the still-fresh wounds of the attack were used to lead (or, as some prefer, mislead) this nation into wars that have cost well over $1 trillion.
And let us also not forget the way in which the attacks of 9/11 were used to change us into a nation where civil rights were crushed – even eagerly discarded – in the quest for “security.” And a nation that openly – even gleefully – tortured prisoners. (And please do not even bother to try to argue that what we did was not torture. Do not add blatant dishonesty to the already heavy moral burden.)
So, of course, we must not forget the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. They should be fully and properly (and privately) mourned. As we should also mourn the many thousands more who have died in the wars started as a result of those attacks. (More than 6,000 American military deaths – and, if you are inclined to be more inclusive, many tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians.)
People like to solemnly declare that “9/11 changed everything.”
Of course it didn’t. Much of what is worst in us and much of what is best in us remains untouched. And that – both best and worst – is as it should be.
But 9/11 certainly did change America.
Among many things, it changed us into a nation that obsessively focuses on 9/11. Sort of an auto-immune response.
Pearl Harbor – you do remember that Day That Will Live in Infamy, on which more than 2,400 Americans were killed – launched us into a war, a real war, which we won.
September 11 launched us into a Hall of Mirrors – and if you know anything about a Hall of Mirrors, that means we are always attacking ourselves, attacking reflections, with shattering results.
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