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20 years after


I don’t have much to say about the 20th anniversary of 9/11, so here are some thoughts from my friend Steve the Meterologist:

Entirely personal reaction: very much not feeling the 9/11 commemoration.

If you are, not saying in any way you are wrong. It was an epochal event, a pure before/after dividing line. For me, it’s leaving me more depressed and angry at the state of the world than feeling like looking awe-stricken at the raised flag picture again. Guess it’s a combination of a few things.

1. We’ve been memorializing it from about two hours after the towers fell. Been mentioned many times here: Honoring, commemorating, and memorializing things is a full industrial complex by this point. Combine that with me getting older so there’s an anniversary burnout. All the WWII anniversaries are on an endless loop since the war was ~6 years and we note every anniversary that’s a multiple of 5. I’ve seen D-Day and Pearl Harbor honored over and over and over. And duh, I get it, WWII was really important and the vets are almost gone. Still.

2. For all the nostalgia for the sense of national unity in the 9/11 aftermath, I remember feeling rubbed the wrong way by one specific variant of triumphalism: the idea that post Cold War we’d grown soft and frivolous and now we’d at least toughen up and deal with reality. Two subpoints on that:

2A. Peace and prosperity are the point of all the policy, right? The goal? Give me a soft society doing yoga and pottery and starting businesses and going on nice vacations over a tough, purpose-minded society where everyone is joining the military to fight a big foreign threat. The latter is necessary at times but it’s hardly to be desired for itself. If it’s the permanent state of things, you’re at least in the neighborhood of fascism.

2B. Obviously all that unity bought us two wars which ended up being catastrophic failures. World-altering, historical disasters. So yay, let’s wistfully remember all the unity–that isn’t landing too well right now. Especially *right now* when the Afghanistan result is rather fresh in our minds.

3. Covid. We’re in the neighborhood of a million excess deaths in the US. Older people yes, disease is different than planes into buildings yes, semi-anonymously in hospitals around the country vs all at once in two spectacular collapses, all different yes. Still. 3000 on 9/11, a thousand or two or three every day for over a year. And we’re dealing with it like spoiled children. People who performatively well up in tears at how much we owe the troops at every parade and ceremony won’t get a free shot to protect their neighbors. Asking them to wear a mask in a grocery store is the same as putting them on a cattle car to Auschwitz.

Anyway, personally: feh.

I do remember one detail of how different the world was in terms of simple communication: I didn’t have a cell phone in those days, and I went for a run that morning before teaching a 9 AM (Mountain time) class. I didn’t turn on the radio when driving to school, so I walked into class more than two hours into the whole thing, having heard nothing about it. Within a couple of minutes I asked the class if something had happened that I hadn’t heard about, because everyone looked really strange. So that’s how I found out.

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