Friday, September 11, 2009

9 / 11 Reconsidered

Eight years after September 11, 2001, I feel the time has come to reconsider that date's place in history. In our memory, it has gained a significance far beyond what it actually has, out of proportion to the number of people that died and the overall effects on the world.

To many Americans, 9 / 11 has become an epochal moment, a day of terror and atrocity that is beyond anything they have experienced. It is, in effect, the blackest day the world has ever seen. The only problem is, it was not.

Yes, the terrorist attacks that took place that morning were horrific and beyond the pale of experience of most Americans. Yes, the suffering of the victims' families must be awful. But 9 / 11 is not the only tragedy in human history, or in American history.

If we limit our glance merely to the twentieth century, we are faced with the Armenian genocide, the First World War, the Second World War, the Holocaust, the Palestinian Nakba, the Vietnam War, Pol Pot's Kampuchea, and numerous other historical events have killed far more people. What makes 9 / 11 so special is that it happened to us. It was a matter of location, not magnitude.

People said it would change everything. However, for most Americans, life has gone back to normal. Even in New York, the site of the attacks, things have gone back to pretty much the way they were. As an article in today's New York Times illustrates, even though many New Yorkers thought that the city would never recover, the city has suffered only minimal changes. Businesses have remained where they were, the city itself has not degenerated into a security state, and the population has not fled.

One might argue that 9 / 11 has changed everything. He or she might point to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the sweeping anti-terror laws that were passed afterwards. However, these changes were not merely results of the attacks themselves. They were outgrowths of our panic, and unwillingness to think before we acted.

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