Remembering America’s ‘Remembering 9/11′ Columns

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Incorporating Washington Post Book World.Just one day over a decade ago, 9/11 changed everything. It did. But we got through it, because after all are we not Americans — that’s what we do, “get through” a constant sewage stream of economic and moral disasters. It was 10 years ago. Certain authors remember it well. “9/11,” they say, sitting down to tap out think pieces about that fateful day, “I remember it well. It changed everything. But is not America still, after all, America?” Let’s skim through some of these poignant “remembering 9/11” columns and incisive “how has this horrible decade affected Things on Earth?” essays, and compare and contrast, as a terrible beauty is born.

The New Yorker, apparently, isn’t about to let slip its record of epic 9/11 bathos. Remember Adam Gopnik’s “smoked mozzarella”?

Or Jonathan Franzen’s “deep grief for the loss of daily life” and his yearning for the bygone days of “hourly AOL updates on J. Lo’s doings”? [Editor's note: No, nobody remembers these things.]

For the special tenth anniversary, the New Yorker had Zadie Smith cobble together an “aren’t we all a little guilty?” meditation:

[T]his whole, unlovely decade, which started downtown, and made us all monstrous, me as much as anybody. I was for the war, at first. Later, I was pleased when President Obama promised to commit more troops to Afghanistan, not because I thought it would end that war but because I hoped it would win him the election. I sat at dinner parties and felt envious of people who had not supported the war, as if whether or not a lot of armchair intellectuals did or did not support a war was what the war was actually about.

9/11 made monsters of us all, and we looked silly at dinner parties. And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

Zadie Smith is clearly a smart and self-aware person, but even with her qualifying last clause one can’t help but feel that the envy of “armchair intellectuals” (who types in an armchair?) for their opinions on real life slaughter and mayhem is missing the point somewhat. More precisely: bringing this up in a column, and using it as your main example of 9/11-inspired monstrousness, is upper-middle-brow cluelessness at its best. But this is the New Yorker, after all (and don’t get one wrong; one likes long-dead New Yorker writers like Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Liebling, and even now there’s the occasional terrific report, and Anthony Lane’s movie reviews are wondrous). [Editor's Note: And David Denby eats cat poop off his Android phone, because he misunderstood the concept of a novelty app.]

In the rest of the piece, Smith ticks all the appropriate boxes: “everything had changed”; but then again maybe not, because Jews and Christians are peacefully co-existing in New York City (evidence: papier-mâché Stars of David and crosses hung side-by-side at Christmastime); MLK’s most optimistic and least prophetic line (he wasn’t a 9/11 dinner party monster, Smith says); and finally a snappy rhyming quotation from Frederick Seidel, the poet laureate of well-heeled, educated Manhattanites who don’t read poetry. “What joy to eat the unborn,” he wrote.

There are lots of other “remembering 9/11″ pieces in the newest issue of the New Yorker, most of them written by celebrated authors. Jonathan Safran Foer echoes Franzen’s reaction ten years ago by reminding us that the incineration of humans is kind of like a nightmare. This is how unconscious influence works, probably.

Anyway, enough picking on the fussy old New Yorker. What does NEW MEDIA have to say about the recurrence of September 11 every year? What says The Daily Beast, the hawt and cutting-edge savior of Newsweek, about this subject?

In the Beast, Scottish teevee favorite and Star Trek historian Niall Ferguson went the alternative history route in a “what if 9/11 had never happened?” piece. He speculates that the Saudi regime would have collapsed and Osama bin Laden would have taken over Saudi Arabia, causing disaster in the Middle East, due to Arabs:

Replaying the history game without 9/11 suggests that, ironically, the real impact of the attacks was not on Americans but on the homelands of the attackers themselves.

Thank you for not overthrowing the Saudis, 9/11. Disasters were truly averted. Ferguson never mentions what the people of Iraq and Afghanistan might be up to right now had the attacks never happened.

The New York Times gathered a few “liberal hawks” and forced them to speak (“virtually”) at a round table.

One expects these things to be tedious, and indeed most of it is like being trapped in a faculty lounge with the entire Department of Taking Heroic Stands by Writing for the New Republic Studies. But some parts of it are good, like this outburst of David Rieff’s, aimed at the forever-innocent Paul Berman:

BERMAN: We — the United States and its allies- — at least raised the issue of liberal democracy.

RIEFF: Raised the issue? At the price of how many dead, including our own? This is not a high table debate, for God’s sake. Huge numbers of people have killed and been killed because of our decision to stay in Afghanistan after we had toppled the Taliban and our invasion of Iraq. All this to raise the issue of liberal democracy? My God, man!

Yes.

And one would like to take this sentence of Ian Buruma’s and plaster it across the entrances to every newspaper or magazine office (or blogger batcave) in the land:

You cannot use “fascism,” “Islamism,” or “Communism” as abstractions, without historical context.

This is useful advice. Even Newt Gingrich could learn from it.

Which reminds us of something. Back in the 1930s, when left-wing and liberal intellectuals were calling for armed struggle against fascism in Spain, many of them actually went to Spain to fight. George Orwell, André Malraux, a very young Octavio Paz, and many more. Orwell even got shot in the goddamn neck. Truly hawkish socialist hawks, those men. Put their money where their beaks were.

Anyway. How has this decade of colossal brutality changed you? 500-word personal essay, double-spaced. GO!

(Your Wonkette book person apologizes for inflicting a 9/11-related column on you.)

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143 comments

    1. Rotundo_

      If you can't overlook wapo, you can't overlook anything. I'm old enough to remember the days when it was remotely worth a shit. These days, it doesn't come within several light years of being worth a shit. Even as an example of self-parody.

  1. HistGuy

    I take pride in the enormous amount of self-reflection that occurred on the Anniversary. I was delighted to see the myriad discussions of the role of US foreign policy prior to 9/11 that prompted Al-Qaeda to attack, as well as the reflection on how our policies did not change since then. Also, the great discussions in the media about how much of our freedom and liberties we've surrendered in the past 10 years in a knee-jerk reaction to the attacks.

    Oh, wait . . .

    1. zhubajie

      I remember counting up the number of countries or peoples which might want revenge for some attack or coup or proxy war. In 15 minutes, I reached 20, then quit.

      1. Chillwaver

        Too mild. Probably something more along the lines of "Obama has caused more economic and social damage to this nation than 9-11!" (notice that it's "Obama" without the "President")

        1. Rotundo_

          It'll be Rick Perry, unless ol' crazy eyes (Michele B) wants to lob one last salvo before flaming out into obscurity. Mittens will be too interested in hanging Rick on the Social Security cross and nailing up the palms and scaring the billy bejeezus out of the olds to jump too heavily into this one.

    1. finallyhappy

      As you all remember, during the last GOP debate, I went to a 18th century French play adapted for our time – in rhyme and with a baby pig. Tonight, I will watch Hoarders -about the lady who has hundreds of puppets in her house and is in debt for $300,000 – I think it sounds a lot like some of the candidates

  2. nounverb911

    "one likes long-dead New Yorker writers like Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Liebling"
    "Up In the Old Hotel" is truly my most favorite book ever. (Even more then "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel").

    1. jus_wonderin

      That is odd. I was just thinking about "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel" yesterday. And I don't know the reason why.

  3. SorosBot

    “I remember it well. It changed everything. But is not America still, after all, America?”

    [Reads over Bill of Rights] No; no it isn't.

    1. Rotundo_

      They do, why do you think Dubya isn't over in europe shaking the money tree for honoraria like his dad did? If he leaves US soil, he can be nabbed and tried, same with Cheney and most of the neocon cabal, Yoo certainly wouldn't want to get caught in the EU anytime soon either. Dubya and Dick will never set foot anywhere in europe again.

    1. Tommmcattt

      " It was a Tuesday, and the chill of Autumn had settled, evidenced by the fact that had I bought my first poncho of the season the day before, after putting the whites away reluctantly for another season…"

      1. jus_wonderin

        "The days of sun and sandals were behind us. Nothing would be the same, even though I was wearing my thong under my smart black tea length charmer. We watched in horror as ashes settled on my shoulder. Because goddamn, the fucking dress is dry clean only!!"

  4. nounverb911

    "(Your Wonkette book person apologizes for inflicting a 9/11-related column on you.)"
    Greer, after being forced to read all that fine outstanding writing, go have a drink on me.

      1. BornInATrailer

        I preferred it when they had Osama on the "WAZZUUUUP" call.

        EDIT: Haha, I wrote Obama instead of Osama. Maybe I can get a job at Fox.

  5. JackDempsey1

    My brother was in the south tower. [He survived. We "Nearly Lost" him.]
    I find that I cannot administer noogies without tearing up, now.

  6. JoshuaNorton

    And yea I say unto you, they shall raise up the least among them to the highest post and he shall appear as a monkee and they shall call him "W".

    The sheep shall follow and the lies shall flow like water from the sea. They shall proclaim his deceptions and follow him unto war with the wrong nation.

    And Cheney will shoot some guy in the face also, too.

    - Lobotomy 9:11

    1. SayItWithWookies

      I vas only following orders. Specifically, I vas following your order uff pheasant mit my order uff ze stuffed game hen.

    2. Rotundo_

      The cocktail weenies and swedish meatballs good lord above, the hell of cocktail weenies and swedish meatballs again and again and again and again!

  7. WhatTheHolyHeck

    I had to stay offline this weekend for fear of going postal on otherwise well-meaning friends, most of whom did indeed post self-obsessed navel-gazing essays about how their lives changed utterly and how they personally suffered even though they were halfway across the country and didn't actually know anyone who'd died that day.

    1. GunToting[Redacted]

      I managed to mentally pixilate all those FB posts somehow and spent the day watching crappy movies.

    2. JohnyEdge

      We had to close our law office at noon. Do you know how much money that cost us? It was, indeed, a tragedy.

  8. edgydrifter

    9/11 changed nothing. People were dicks before. They still are. Ten years from now, guess what? More dicks.

    1. BarackMyWorld

      I'm talking morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.
      How many dicks is that? A lot.

  9. V572 T-Blow

    The most irritating comment about 9/11 was that "America lost its innocence." What ignorant shithead doesn't know that America got its cherry popped when the first African debarked in Charleston or wherever it was?

    1. Chet Kincaid

      America's Magical Self-Healing Maidenhead is always getting popped by somethin'. That's why our favorite movie is "Forrest Gump", about some fucking moron stumbling through history.

  10. weejee

    There were 23 senators who voted nay on the Iraq War resolution. Yea for:

    Akaka (D-HI), Bingaman (D-NM), Boxer (D-CA), Byrd (D-WV), Chafee (R-RI), Conrad (D-ND), Corzine (D-NJ), Dayton (D-MN), Durbin (D-IL), Feingold (D-WI), Graham (D-FL), Inouye (D-HI), Jeffords (I-VT), Kennedy (D-MA), Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Reed (D-RI), Sarbanes (D-MD), Stabenow (D-MI), Wellstone (D-MN), and Wyden (D-OR). 21 D-Rats, 1 Repug, and 1 Indie.

    1. deanbooth

      I remember W saying "This is not a vote for war, it is a vote for peace." (Because, um, he had not yet decided whether to start the war, and just needed the resolution for leverage against Saddam.)

  11. prommie

    It was not nearly as life-changing as the Supreme Court's utterly lawless appointment of W to the presidency. You see, I am a lawyer, and as imperfect as the system is, I had thought it at least strove for actual "justice." But when the USSC did something so blatantly partisan, so completely unsupportable as to be illegal, it destroyed any belief I had in the legitimacy of our legal system at the highest levels.

    1. FakaktaSouth

      Between Dub and Citizens United, the SC can pretty much be blamed for everything. Just everything. Everything that sucks is ultimately Antonin Scalia's fault. Great big fucker.
      I hope each football team hits the other football team hard in both games tonight because I am having aggression issues and as I am not really a hitter, I wanna yell and say oooh or something.

      1. V572 T-Blow

        First you have to listen to Hank Williams, Jr, "sing." As a result of insomniacal channel-surfing this morning, I can report to you that this "musical" performance was taped at an entity which styles itself "Full Sail University," which may or may not exist but does have a Web page at http://www.fullsail.edu/

        Just want to help you work up your anger. Happy to help.

        1. FakaktaSouth

          Wow. That looks to be a more fun University than what I attended, but Jr could also be a professor at Alabama and no one would think twice. Hank's face looks like it is seceding from his union, from the mountains and aging and whatnot.
          I can't wait, because I am in fact ready for some (more) football.

    2. Katydid

      I am still amazed that Scalia and Thomas got away with not recusing themselves, and that there wasn't a huge outcry about it. Most people don't even know that they should have. I get seriously angry when I think2 about it.

  12. MiniMencken

    9/11 achieved pretty much everything Bin Laden wanted it to, thanks to Dick Cheney being President. Who writes about that?

  13. GunToting[Redacted]

    "Ferguson never mentions what the people of Iraq and Afghanistan might be up to right now had the attacks never happened."

    Several thousand more of them would be walking around alive, so hey, overcrowding problem solved!

  14. LettucePrey

    Knock, knock!
    Who’s there?
    9/11
    9/11 who?
    I thought you said you’d NEVAR FORGIT!!

    Wait, that’s only 14 words. Hmm. Back to the drawing board.

    1. V572 T-Blow

      Orwell could throw the long ball but had no mobility in the pocket. Manning's also slow on his feet but more of a dink-and-dunk kind of passer.

      1. Bots Meat Commission

        Orwell really screwed you over if you picked him high up in the 1931 International Socialists Fantasy Draft. In that case, you had to suck it up and start weak-ass Eugene V. Debs.

  15. V572 T-Blow

    "You cannot use “fascism,” “Islamism,” or “Communism” as abstractions, without historical context." Okay, Ian, how's this?

    Islamism (a set of ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system; that modern Muslims must return to the roots of their religion, and unite politically. Islamism is a controversial term and definitions of it sometimes vary. Leading Islamist thinkers emphasized the enforcement of sharia on Muslims; of pan-Islamic political unity; and of the elimination of non-Muslim, particularly western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world, which they believe to be incompatible with Islam) is a major problem in the Middle East today.

  16. SayItWithWookies

    9/11 didn't change anything — our decision to live in fear and to encourage war crimes and to forget about adhering to the facts and that checks and balances doesn't mean having your toady lawyer write you an excuse to detain people indefinitely without charges, and to spy on all our people all the time and to give no-bid contracts to Dick Cheney's friends and to think our highest ideals are only meant for American citizens in times of peace — those fuckin' changed everything.

    And the sooner we slough off this fascist rot the better.

  17. hagajim

    I remember 9/11 well…I changed…..my underwear, just like I change it every day. I also changed it on 9/11/11….hmmmm, maybe some kind of nefarious plot is afoot?

    Seriously though – shit hitting the fan in NY was terrible, but we lose more Americans in car accidents every single year than we lost on 9/11…so where is all the angst about auto deaths?

    1. zhubajie

      We lose more in car accidents on long holiday weekends! There were many 20th century battles that killed 10 times as many. But none of our media pigs and politicrooks have a sense of perspective.

  18. Tundra Grifter

    "armchair intellectuals" – as opposed to those fightin' intellectuals, on the front lines of our current three wars?

    1. V572 T-Blow

      We shall fight in the faculty lounges, we shall fight on the op-ed pages or the letters-to-the-editor column, we shall fight in the cable access channels, we shall fight you in the think tanks; we shall never surrender.

  19. Schmannnity

    If only he had not died seven years later, I am sure Napoleon would have made the trip to Belgium to "remember, heal, and commemorate" Waterloo and build a museum, memorial, and memory wall of names on the tenth anniversary.

  20. hollywooddood

    I like the part about how we didn't give in to fear, when every fucking thing in the last ten years has been in response to fear.

    And so Cheney the Dick could make a shit load of money, also.

  21. fuflans

    did anyone read / remember anthony lane's review of 'phantom of the opera'? one of the most delightful things i've ever read beginning with:

    What does it take to shake a movie fan? Whether we are critics or bug-eyed buffs, so many of our evenings are spent in the company of crimes and misdemeanors that we can hardly be blamed for developing the hide of a pachyderm. Just occasionally, something slips through—a thin shudder of monstrosity, enough to remind us of what it means to be afraid. And so it came about, this week, that I gazed at a black screen and saw words so calamitous that they might have been written in my own blood: “Screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher.”

    scrumptious.

  22. Steverino247

    Well, let's see. My dog died that morning, curled up next to the tree he loved to pee on. My older son's honeymoon was spoiled by learning a high school friend was killed in one of the towers. His brother was home on leave for the wedding and I almost had to drive him back to his base in Louisiana because all the planes were grounded. He was eventually shot in the head in Iraq on 9/14/04 (THERE is a "never forget" date for you) but is doing pretty well, all things considered. My wife and I would have liked to avoid the behind-the-scenes tours of Walter Reed and various VA facilities since that date, although we met a lot of folks for whom the word "hero" does not do justice, all of whom were knowlingly lied to by their Commander-in-Chief. Yeah, that guy who still walks around free with that stupid smirk on his face. So, for the rest of my 500 word allotment, just repeat: "George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumseld are unindicted war criminals."

  23. BlueStateLibel

    Sometimes I wonder, though, did we actually "get through it"? Or maybe there was more in those planes than we knew, and we're all actually dead. And what we've got now – an insane Tea Party, corrupt government colluding with Wall Street, endless war, etc. – seems to indicate that if true, we're not exactly in the place with the Pearly Gates.

    1. finallyhappy

      I've often considered- well before 9/11/01- that this is hell.
      Not because things were so horrible but that maybe Hell is pretty mediocre with occasional happiness popping through.

  24. JackObin

    I guees this means the fine American citizenry is in the mood to get all weepy about the 300,000 folks incinerated by Harry Truman in 1945, right?

    1. coron4

      Yes but the links should come with warnings. I could have happily missed Franzen for several more 9/11 ten-year anniversaries. Or at least while eating lunch.

  25. anniegetyerfun

    Zadie Smith wrote "White Teeth", so everything I need to know about her was already summed up in my burning hatred of that book.

  26. Come here a minute

    This decade of colossal brutality has left me ten years older. I demand a refund!

    [Click this link to read the other 485 words of my spectacular essay.]

  27. coron4

    Well @Come here a minute that's what I get for eating lunch instead of rushing to the internets! Hah! It's aged me, tragically, by ten years and fourteen minutes! And it's those last fourteen minutes that hurt the most!

  28. rocktonsam

    I hope President Bush jr. makes President W. Parry make 9/11 an annual Monday holiday.

    Two 4 day back to back work weeks in September would be awesome.

    I hope I'm working then.

    NEVER FORGET!

  29. zhubajie

    At the time, I p'o'd many by noting that lots of other places get bombed too, so why not the USA? It's not as if we haven't spent the last couple generations making enemies everywhere.

  30. HempDogbane

    A few years ago I was visiting a friend and her computer was on Andrew Sullivan's blog. She said, "I just finished writing to him." I said I'd written a few times also, always angry stuff about his cheerleading for the Iraq invasion, and especially for his attitude toward those who opposed it. During a good part of those years I had someone I cared about serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I did a sort of my email for Sullivan's address when I got home and discovered I'd written him 62 times. So that's what I did during the decade, until I quit to write an occasional comment on Wonkette, which is equally satisfying and just as influential.

  31. zhubajie

    "what the war was actually about."

    Bush playing Napoleon? And fucking it up, as per the rest of his useless life?

  32. zhubajie

    "what the war was actually about."
    Bush proving he was a military genius, not a life-long fuck-up? Speeding up the Rapture? Cheney undoubtedly wanted to steal oil or gas or something. Rummie? War profits! Neo-cons: kill "lesser breeds outside the law", probably.

  33. zhubajie

    John Lee Hooker and Jorge Amado also died 9-11-2001. Predictably, these creative artists are forgotten today. :-(

    1. freddymcmurray

      Apparently you've forgotten too. Neither Jorge Amado nor John Lee Hooker died on 9/11/2001. Look it up.

  34. Beanball

    In November of 2004 I started a blog, on which I complained and cursed and wrote about how we could change things for the better. Four hundred and twenty five posts later, things are even worse, and I am out of words to express my disgust.

    So I'll just say, ten years after 9/11 and more than ever, Barack Obama is morally weak.

  35. Negropolis

    Niall Ferguson is a truly contemptible man. I hate almost everything about him. His smugness and his shameless switch to a contrarian to get people to talk to him among the top reasons. I know many like him, but I find him to be the very (negative) stereotype of an "academic."

    Oh, the essay. Almost forgot.

    "9/11, freedumb, liberty, kill all evil doers, or brave men and women in uniform, nevah fohget"

    Hope that will suffice.

  36. LloydDrako

    It's a mistake to say 9/11 changed everything. You're supposed to say 9/11 changed everything F O R E V E R .

  37. ttommyunger

    I started to read this Article, but I didn't know there would be so many……words. Oh well, USA, USA! BTW-and OT: Our SCOTUS has conferred "Personhood" on Corporations so now they can throw unlimited MegaBucks to our Candidates. Question: All persons have Citizenship. Has "Citizenship" also been bestowed on these enormously wealthy "persons"? If so, which Country? MegaCorps have extensive off-shore holdings and Headquarters. Isn't there a law against foreigners contributing to our Campaigns? Oh well, USA, USA!

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