The Compulsory 9/11 Post

Until now I’ve avoided adding to the 11 September outpourings. It’s important, yes, but it takes time to reflect. And I don’t really remember it anyway. Garth Kidd‘s phone call woke me. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre, he said. I told him it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t do anything about it — and went back to sleep.


Five years on, I’m not mourning. I didn’t know anyone there. There’s only subdued anger. I’m angry that the deaths of 2749 human beings (plus 19 terrorists) have since been used for questionable political ends. Angry that Australia seems to have gone along with everything that’s come out of it, like a faithful little lap-dog. (However even the most cowardly little lap-dog will bark when he’s asked to do something wrong.) And angry that America’s worst ever terrorist attack has such a stupid name.

In 1945 a B-25 crashed into the Empire State Building. It splattered and left a hole in the wall. So my initial non-reaction to the 2001 crash is understandable. How was I to know the goddam Twin Towers would fall over? And when three decades of Star Wars and HHGG have inured you to entire planets being vapourized, as TV entertainment goes, a couple of buildings falling down is a bit tame.

Now I suspect I’m not alone. So it disturbs me to see every publicity-seeking politician and TV puppet engage in an orgy of necrophiliac frottage, hoping to improve their credibility through feigned concern for people they never knew. Naomi and her lizard was one thing. But this…!

On the other hand, Richard Farmer’s article The politics of funerals in Wednesday’s Crikey ponders these quotes from Encyclopaedia of Death and Dying:

Broadly shared emotions produce a sense of community. Political regimes have long understood this and have capitalised on the power of state funerals as a mechanism by which to enhance social solidarities and to reaffirm the legitimacy of the power structure.

The degree of public mourning following the deaths of Lady Diana and John F Kennedy Jr led social observers to wonder if grief is an ever-present latent feeling just waiting to be exploited by the political elite, if people’s lives are so empty that they engage in recreational grief… Perhaps individuals are emotive puppets manipulated by the mass media and/or political elite, and people cry because they are shown other people crying for a celebrity.

Perhaps he’s got a point. With (supposedly) less emphasis on the extended family, with (supposedly) our social institutions falling apart around us, people are yearning for some sort of connection. So blast them with imagery of strong emotions and they’ll hook themselves in — voluntarily. 9/11 or Big Brother, it’s all grist for the mill.

And finally, the name…

Remember the Alamo! goes the great war cry. Remember Pearl Harbour! Rich, evocative names.

“Remember 9/11” sounds like it was invented by an accountant.

All “Remember 9/11” tells me is that it’s the day we finally stopped even pretending that we’ve lost out to American culture. Without a complaint, we parroted “9/11” — even though for 96% of the planet’s population “9/11” means “the 9th of November”. Or, to Commonwealth citizens over a certain age, “nine shillings and eleven pence”.

(And, as an aside, when did we decide that we express dates as “September 11”, not “the 11th of September”? I’m guessing about the same time we decided we were too cheap to re-voice TV adverts for new movies.)

If a week later you’re still after some 9/11 material, here’s four suggestions:

  1. Read the words This hole in the ground or, even better, watch the video so you can hear the power of this words as US TV presenter Keith Olbermann delivers an 8-minute piece to camera, ripping into the President. I can only dream of writing such a powerful, angry yet focussed speech. (Thanks for the pointer, Zhasper.)
  2. Consider Paul Sheehan’s op-ed piece The war is over: now to proceed on our terms from the Sydney Morning Herald. (Thanks for the pointer, John Birmingham.)
  3. Review How 9/11 changed America: In statistics, a fascinating info-graphic from BBC News. (Thanks to information aesthetics for the pointer.)
  4. Do some reflection of your own on 9/11, and on Australia’s response. Write down your thoughts. Send them to your federal member of parliament.

Oh, and Garth? Next time, mate, tell me “A war has broken out, a big one,” and maybe I’ll get up and put on the coffee.

6 Replies to “The Compulsory 9/11 Post”

  1. After a week or so of reflection I’m struck by the anodyne nature of the commemorative coverage: it was a ‘tragedy’, people were ‘lost’, we need to ‘heal’, as if it was a random natural disaster like an earthquake. It’s apparently tasteless to point out that these people were murdered.

  2. Richard, my reaction to your comment may reflect my tiredness and resulting cynicism at the end of a long work day, but…

    If people are “lost” in a “tragedy” then, as you point out, the event becomes a random natural disaster — an act of god. As such, it was inevitable, there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. “It’s not our fault.”

    But a murder has murderers, and murderers have motives.

    “Why did they do it?”, we might ask. That runs the risk of understanding the murderers’ point of view. We can’t have that, or we’ll start asking if the attack could be justified, or at least rationalised — and we might start calling the attackers “soldiers” instead of “murderers”.

    Maybe we’d start asking why the attack wasn’t prevented, or why a modern building collapsed in such a catastrophic way. And then we’d start hearing phrases like “intelligence failure” and thinking about that war in Iraq again and how it all connects up — or not.

    No, it’s all much, much safer politically to treat it as a natural disaster. Just let the death sit by itself, and don’t connect it back to anything.

    Quick! Watch these bright and shiny things over here!

    [A note to those who are hard of thinking: Just because I describe how a thought process works, it doesn’t mean I agree with it.]

  3. i’ve finally decided 2 things

    1. Iraq is hell on earth, and it’s never returning

    2. I didn’t want the US to enter Iraq. But after they did I felt they should do the right thing and stay and “make things right”. But now the US is burning *with* Iraq.

    9/11 is something in the past that people can sandbox, telecast, and hold hands over. Fair enough, I don’t blame them. But Iraq is now something more.

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