When we speak of 9/11, what do we talk about?
We of course talk about grief and loss and the courage of those that responded directly to the tragedy, but what else do we talk about? Do we talk about what we’ve learned? Do we talk about this tragic event’s place in history?
Being only one person, I can only speak from my limited perception of society. However, from my perspective, it appears that the national conversation surrounding 9/11 has gotten hung up on ritualizing grief- and that’s incredibly problematic, because it has left the door open for other forces to dictate how this event will be remembered and how it will be conceptualized and taught in history. Instead of being a learning moment for the United States with regards to its foreign affairs, but instead 9/11 has been co-opted by the government to be a medium for propaganda to reinforce the military-industrial complex.
Think about it. What other national tragedy is so routinely memorialized among the American public? Pearl Harbor? Even then, the amount of media devoted to graphically reliving the attack on the Twin Towers every year is unrivaled by any other major tragic event. It’s not like we see JFK’s head being blown off every November. 9/11 receives so much more attention because enemy attacks help sell political policy to the public; the same can’t be said for a presidential assassination. I realize that drawing a parallel between those two events isn’t the most fair for the argument, but the point remains: 9/11 commemoration is a politically-motivated occurrence, a point that becomes even more important when it is considered what policies it has been used to advance.
Since the attack on the Twin Towers fifteen years ago, the U.S. has drastically increased its invasion of and involvement in the Middle East. While the events of 9/11 of course initially spurred a war that we now know was based on false pretenses, the dramatic influence on policy outside the trenches has been even more significant. U.S. use of special operations forces has increased every single year since 9/11, even today, and the Obama administration continues to expand its use of drones, a program which on multiple occasions has ended the lives of dozens of people without being able to identify them.
This isn’t just about disagreeable military policy. The fact is that in the 15 years since we were attacked on our own soil, the federal government never bothered to make any change in policy besides greatly increasing the well-intentioned but ultimately misguided military presence in the Middle East that spurred the attack in the first place, and never bothered to own up to conducting a war on false pretenses that killed thousands and displaced millions or re-examine the possible causes for the attack.
Don’t believe me? Well, did you know that federal authorities have known since 2002 that the men who perpetrated 9/11 received housing, flight school and financial support from the Saudi Arabian government? Shouldn’t that have warranted investigation, even though they’re a geopolitical ally?
These are the true costs of letting outside forces dictate how we choose to move on from grief as a country. The federal government continues to wage violence against communities in the Middle East even though Americans as a whole are now strongly opposed to doing so. We have never truly moved on from the events of 9/11 as a country, and the powers that be have utilized that knowledge to manipulate our grief into support for, or at least acquiescence to destructive, failed military policy. It’s in the best interest of domestic warlords that we perpetuate and relive this tragedy ad infinitum.
It’s important to honor the dead and those who heeded the call of their communities when they were most in need, but we can do so without indulging in hollow rituals every year that only serve to advance the tide of profitable chaos that will only serve to create similar attacks against our civilians in the future. If we truly wish to honor our victims, we can do so as a country by breaking the cycle of grief- and our addiction to destruction.
Collegian Assistant Opinion Editor Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @seanskenn.