The pushback against 9/11 commemoration

Someone was going to say it sooner or later, I suppose. It’s September 8th, and there’s still three days to go until September 11. There’s pushback to the near non-stop coverage of a 10-year-old event that is more about reliving it than remembering it.

Dave Zirin, writing on The Nation, focuses on the National Football League’s plans for marking the anniversary on Sunday, but one gets the strong sense his barbs are aimed at a wider group.

From the now ubiquitous presence of military flyovers and honor guards at every game, to the armed forces recruitment stations set up outside preseason contests, to having war-gourmands like General David Petraeus toss the coin before the Super Bowl, to staging Fox’s NFL pregame show from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan (with Terry, Howie and the gang dressed in fatigues), the league has treated our era of endless war as an odious exercise in corporate branding.

The NFL’s plan for this Sunday, according to the league commissioner, is to help the country unite and recover from 9/11.

Zirin’s response:

The last decade has more resembled a sweat-soaked fever-dream than anything resembling a “recovery.” The statistics boggle the mind. More than 6,000 US troops have been killed. Over 550,000 soldiers have put in claims for disability. Among those unfortunate enough to have been born in the countries the United States has invaded and occupied, the death toll has been estimated to be as much as one million lives lost. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons reaches almost 8 million people. The economic cost to the United States has been estimated by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to be as high as $5 trillion. Now everyone in Washington, DC, is shocked that a decade of tax cuts and war has led to record deficits, and working people are told to “tighten our belts.” It’s been an awful decade of lies and loss, and its reality will go unacknowledged this Sunday.

In all the scurrying to make sure “9/11 NFL Sunday” is a day to remember, one name is strikingly absent from the press release trumpeting the day’s events: Pat Tillman. After 9/11, Tillman took the extraordinary step of leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed him to question the official rational for the “Global War on Terror.” He read antiwar authors. He told friends that he felt the war in Iraq was “f–in’ illegal.” Then he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in an instance of what was deemed “friendly fire.” The Pentagon and the Bush administration hid this reality from Pat Tillman’s family. The NFL, for its part, inaugurated a USO center at Bagram Airfield in Pat Tillman’s name without hinting at the complicated realities of either Tillman’s service or his betrayal at the hands of those he trusted. The NFL’s failure to highlight Tillman in this Sunday’s 9/11 tributes is in some ways a relief, but it also reads like an act of cowardice. His story is a polarizing one that Roger Goodell wants to avoid on this day of “unity.”

  • davidz

    I’ve been thinking along this line that NPR and the rest of the media that I see/read/hear has been going over the top on “10 years since 9/11”. It’s not as if this can be a way to be done with 9/11, to be over it and then move on. And why 10 years? Just because we like nice round numbers?

    Then again, I immediately discount anyone, especially in the “homeland security” field, who says that we must do things “because 9/11 changed everything”. No, it didn’t. We face the same threats as we did on 9/10/2001.

    The only thing that fundamentally changed is that we as a nation have panicked into believing that we can do things that will make us 100% safe. So we remove our shoes and get x-rayed at the airport because, heaven knows, planes are blowing up all the time. We can’t possibly let ourselves be placed into a situation where something might harm us, after all.

    We have people being stopped from travelling home to visit their parents because they have a name, a birthdate or a place of origin that comes close to someone else who might possibly be suspected of thinking of doing something slightly untoward, and thus have ended up on no-fly lists for which there is no escape and no remedy.

    We have a bevy of politicians who demagogue on the fact that we’re not yet safe enough, and are willing to make us pay the price (in civil liberties and convenience lost) yet in the next breath they tell us that we cannot afford to pay that price in monetary value. It’s as if they want us to be scared, because only they can save us from some mysterious enemy (faceless because it lies behind a burqa or is obscured by a keffiyeh).

    We have a country engaged in several wars (oh, sorry, kinetic actions), in most cases riling up and antagonizing the populations from which came very few of the people who actually tried to hurt the country on 9/11.

    Instead we celebrate. Yes, that’s what we’re doing when we hold NFL pregame events and free-drink promotions tied to a specific event We’re celebrating an event in the guise of commemoration. We’re looking at the day, and not really spending the same effort in looking to see what it has done to us.

    Only on NPR have I really seen much in the way of examining the ongoing effect of our reaction to 9/11 (and too little of that examination). The reports this week on our surveillance society by Zwerdling are good (okay, everything Zwerdling has reported on lately has been fascinating and in-depth [I’m thinking of the post-combat treatment reports from Ft. Carson and similar places]- what a reporter!).

    But that’s mixed in with interviews of all sorts of people where it’s been a reflection of the day, September 11. Isn’t that day documented well enough yet? Oh, I guess not, if it takes 10 years to release new audio tapes of the events. Clearly timed to match an arbitrary anniversary. So someone sat on valuable archival material, but for what end? If it’s so valuable, why wasn’t it released earlier? If it’s not so valuable that it needed to be public sooner, what is the reason for releasing it this week?

    There’s still so much looking backward to the event of 9/11. Maybe I’m not a sentimental person that way, but we should be looking forward to what we should be doing to make a world where the of reaction 9/11 we have presented doesn’t happen again.

    Can we live in a world and not be scared by it?

  • Greg Klave

    The Slate writer is a plant to attack the obvious facts that the twin towers and Bldg. No. 7 of the World Trade Center, which wasn’t hit by a plane, came down in controlled implosions. Just take a look at all buildings coming down on that day and ask yourself. Also all eveidence was destroyed so no investigation could take place other than the Administration talking heads. This at the beginning of the endless war state for the easy pickings of military industrial complex.

    MPR should be ashamed that they have neglected to investigate themselves and then didn’t have this guy name names and know facts. He just made up things as he went along based on a poll. He is an example of the deception of the media for a salary and how the MPR/NPR network is following suit to mediocracy.

  • Jim Shapiro

    From the closing paragraph of Zirin’s article in The Nation:

    ” I spoke with Rory Fanning, a former US Army Ranger turned antiwar activist, who served with Pat and walked across the country in his memory. I asked Rory what he would like to see the NFL do to commemorate the decade anniversary of that fateful day. He said, “I would ask the NFL for an hour of silence for the hundreds of thousands killed after 9/11 in recognition of the criminally disproportionate response to that day.”

    Looking for heroes to acknowledge on 9/11? My vote goes to Rory Fanning.

  • Jeanne

    @davidz, I appreciate your observations and agree that the timing of the release of the recordings is certainly opportune, isn’t it.

    I’d be curious to know what psychologists have to say about what an event like 9/11 does to a nation’s psyche. We seem to get the message that we should be in constant fear. Can’t be good for the psyche (or the heart, for that matter).

    I got a job working at the Mall of America in November 2011. I had friends who couldn’t believe I would work there and told me they stopped shopping at MOA because it was a target for terrorists. I wonder how many people still avoid the place today.

    Are we commemorating an event or being asked to relive a trauma? It seems like much of what I’ve seen thus far in the media is not a commemoration, but a reliving of a trauma. I don’t see how that is healthy for us as individuals or as a country.

  • Jeanne

    Sorry for the typo, I got that job at MOA in November 2001.

  • Jay Baines

    Media will hype a dog funeral, but the 9/11 stuff is way over the top. I’ve turned off weepy testimonials and commemorations, and it’s not because I lack sympathy for families of victims. What we’re missing is that the U.S. gave credibility to bin Laden and his relatively ragtag group by declaring war on them. Two wars now. How has the U.S. become the bully aggressors in our world? This has deeply and adversely affected our good image.

    We need to demand of our elected officials that they get us out of those hellholes, leaving behind enough military personnel to secure us in hot spots. Cut the damned bloated defense budget. Write the Super Committee to let them know you expect this. We’ve given enough of our national treasury to failed efforts. Recent reports of the $60 billion wasted on contractors (fraud included) in the two wars tells the story. Taxpayers’ money holding up the interests of already-rich contractors! It’s a national disgrace.

  • Jay Baines

    By the way, what do those flyovers cost the taxpayers?