Apparently there was a bit of controversy at my high school yesterday because there was no official acknowledgement of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Some of my former classmates took to Facebook to voice their displeasure.
In the most basic sense, they’re right. SPHS administrators should have, in some way, recognized the anniversary of one of the most horrific attacks in our country’s history. It was only eleven years year ago and a graduate of the high school was actually on one of the planes.
At AU last night there was a candlelight vigil on the quad to remember the lives of those who were lost. In fairness, it’s a different setting. The Pentagon is just seven miles from campus and the student body is heavily Northeastern. There is even a girl on my floor whose father was in one of the towers.
But on the other hand to claim that you’re “offended” by the “actions” of the administration glosses over a lot. For starters, it seems likely to me that there wasn’t actually a conscious decision to not recognize the attacks. I’m no fan of the administrators, but I think it was probably just an oversight and an innocent mistake.
More importantly, this outrage distracts from the fact that we as a country unfortunately tend to remember 9/11 in a vacuum, especially on the anniversary (more on this from The New Yorker here and here). We rarely stop and realize that U.S. foreign policy in the 1980’s and 90’s (namely stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and unconditionally supporting Israel) sparked resentment in the Middle East that helped form al-Qaeda. This doesn’t condone the unspeakable atrocity al-Qaeda perpetrated against the United States (or violence ever as an acceptable form of protest) or justify Osama bin Laden’s reprehensible world view, but context is useful.
And tragically, I no longer think that the legacy of September 11th can be separated from the way it was manipulated in the immediate aftermath. The Bush administration and neoconservatives exploited the fear many Americans felt after the attacks to mislead the country into a war in Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11. They used it to launch a massive national security state that circumvents the Constitution to tap phones and read private emails without warrants, indefinitely detain “enemy combatants” absent criminal charges, and torture and kill prisoners.
The Newsroom aired an episode a few weeks ago about the night the nation learned that bin Laden had been killed. The main character, Will McAvoy, finishes his monologue at the end of the episode with the line, “Throughout our history, America’s finest days have always been followed by it’s finest hours.”
I don’t think that’s true in this case, and I worry a lot of people don’t recognize that. It’s easy to be upset when someone doesn’t remember to acknowledge 9/11, when our country was the wronged party. It’s difficult but no less important to also remind ourselves that our own government has blood on its hands too.