The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: How to remember September 11 today

Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook both America and the world. We probably all remember exactly where we were when the planes hit, but we’ve been hearing that since the day it happened. What I want to know now is if there even is a way that I am supposed to be reflecting on such a terrible event. Is there ever a way to do September 11 justice, without coming off as trite or insincere?

While a year or two after each plane crashed in Manhattan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the wound may still have felt fresh for many of us. But has a seemingly open-ended war in the Middle East, with increased casualties by the day, left room for any potential closure or healing? The United States military invaded Afghanistan within a few months of the September 11 attacks, and continues today in its war on ‘terror’. So how then do we deal with the responsibility of remembering something that is so hurtful, even as our nation continues to ride its shockwave on missiles and bullets?

I say that we have the responsibility of making sure that September 11 is remembered in a way that pays respect to the dead, rather than a way that justifies an endless war of military and cultural imperialism. However, with image after image of exploding planes crashing into buildings entrenched in our hearts, and with an overflow of cultural artifacts—from blockbuster movies to a multitude of swag­—we may find ourselves feeling confused, angry, or even indifferent to what it ‘really’ means to remember September 11th. What would be the best alternative then, for reflecting on such a well-documented and commoditized rupture in the fabric of our nation’s history? Can one choose to compare this tragedy to others around the world—genocide, bombings, disasters, famine and so forth—without disrupting the integrity of America’s sense of ‘horror at home’? Or would that wrongfully privilege the September 11 attacks over similar violence in Rwanda, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, and countless other nations torn by war and hardship in the recent past? While such tragedies do indeed need to be remembered or resolved, putting one in competition with another may prove harmful to the peculiar nature of each individual atrocity. Perhaps then September 11 rightly belongs to those it hurt, rather than the irresponsible contest of listing ‘The World’s Greatest Tragedies’ of the last 10 to 15 years.

In trying to remember September 11, the dominant choices for mourning seem to be divided between two poles. Either there is buying into a pre-packaged account of remembering past harm in order to justify contemporary violence, or there is going about business as usual. But it’s not that simple, and if you don’t know how to feel, that’s ok. There isn’t a right way to deal with something so terrible. What I recommend is remembering the day and its events in a way that optimizes healing and understanding, rather than perpetuating anger and violence. Whether it’s calling your parents, saying a prayer or starting a conversation with friends, there isn’t one right or easy answer. However, I am hopeful that there are steps that one can take towards a positive future, all the while remembering “never” to “forget”.

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