Thursday, September 14, 2006

9/11 Remember and Do

Another anniversary comes and goes. Life has many anniversaries. Modern life has many more. We remember deaths, we remember births. We remember life. We remember death.

The anniversary of 9/11 splits down those remembering into two camps. I do not include those who rejoiced when the planes struck or who claimed it never really happened. Like the wicked son at the Passover Seder, they are entirely outside the community.

Instead the split is between action and commemoration. It is a split between those who see 9/11 as a tragedy and those who see it as an atrocity.

There are many tragedies that happen in life. People suffer. People get sick. People die. We call those tragedies the cycle of life. Everyone who lives will experience them and the only thing to do is cope with them. Indeed coping is really the modern theology. In a culture whose goal is self-esteem, coping with tragedy is one of the bumps on the road to maintaining your self-esteem.

What salt was to the ancients and blood to the human body, self-esteem is considered the desired state, the 21st century nirvana which the enlightened upper middle class college education dweller of our present American age aspires to much as people once aspired to know God.

Self-esteem is the vital fluid, the blood in the veins of a complacent culture seeking nothing more than temporary stability. Like a vehicle's oil it must be constantly checked and its level maintained. Tragedy disturbs that level and the bestiary of therapists, psychiatrists and unlicensed busybodies with advice collumns or TV shows promptly recommend doing whatever it takes to restore it, whether it's medicating yourself until you no longer feel, group meetings, talking cures and the long slow journey to recovery.

To many that was exactly what 9/11 was. A shock. A tragedy. A shocking tragedy. Something people have to learn to cope with, go through all the stages of anger and bargaining all the way to acceptance until 9/11 is just something more to cope with, something to commemorate one day of the year and forget all the rest. Our angry responses to it are 'understandable' in the same clinical condescending way we may pityingly understand the response of our friend who has lost a loved one, but it just a bump in the road of the psyche to be paved over with saccharine cliches and the mnemonic entropy of time.

Indeed the extent to which we commemorate something is often the extent to which we fail to do anything about it. Rituals of grief are rituals after all. They show respect. They soothe us. They teach us to remember yet forget, to know and yet do nothing.

For anyone who doubts this consider the scale of the commemoration efforts of the Holocaust. Yet what practical thing has come out of it. The very core issue of the Holocaust, to never again permit its repetition, was quickly thrown away. A decade ago with the support of much of the Jewish communities in America and Israel, Israel signed an agreement with the enemies plotting its anhiliation. And people cheered as if it was the Anschluss all over again or Chamberlain holding his black umbrella proclaiming, Peace in our time. Never again? More like, Not Today Please.

Indeed most Democrats would like nothing better than for us to turn 9/11 into yet another Holocaust commemoration. An event narrowly focused on the tragedy of it but not on the perpetrators , its history speedily universalized and distorted until it has been rendered utterly meaningless. A perfect commemoration.

Every year the Jewish people commemorate over and over again the destruction of the Temples, the fall of Jerusalem, the Exile. We weep. We mourn. We pray for a return. But when Israel was being created, how many Jews actually went there. The majority chose the Galut. Lest anyone protest that this is because the rebuilding of Israel was secular rather than religious, consider Ezra and Nehemiah. Certainly their religious credentials couldn't be faulted. Nor could Mordechai's. They came not to build a 'Treyfeh Zionistische Medine' but the second Beit Hamikdash. And yet the majority of the Jews remained behind in Babylon. In exile.

Commemoration without action yields only sorrow and apathy. The energy that could have been directed towards meaningfull action instead goes towards rememberance, towards turning inward and floating amidst the turbulent sea of one's own emotions. History's winners do. History's losers commemorate.

The meaning 9/11 holds is not in the commemorations. We must remember the heroism and sacrifice of that day and of the great evil of our enemies but not in commemoration but in imitation. At its core the past represents lessons telling us what to do and what not to do. Commemoration all too often bypasses those lessons in favor of appealing to our raw emotions and then layering them over with the warm comfort of ritual seeming to give us something in place of what we have lost. When in truth it leaves us with nothing.

Unlinked from action commemorations become a facade. A comforting ritual. A way to forget. Joined with action commemoration becomes a triumph overcoming tragedy and robbing death of its laurels. When rememberance truly becomes a rallying call for the present, then life arises from death, and loss is resurrected into purpose. In the parlance of self-help culture such ideas are a crutch. In the parlance of eternal reality, it is self-help culture that is the crutch. The best way to commemorate the losses of the past is with the gains of the future.


Chana said...

Good words yet again.

Udiya said...

Liberal America wants to envelope our nation in the cozy, Opra-esqe, notion of victimhood. They want to recognize 911 as a day of remembrance, laying wreaths - national surrender. In the disordered psyche of a Liberal what evokes the ache of compassion and understanding? What beknights the victim with the crown of enlightenment? What moves the world to pull us to their breast and kiss our communal forehead? Is it one who girds his loin, climbs to the ramparts, up-to-the-elbows in blood and defends his homeland? Or is it the surrendering victim who out of a perverted sense of righteous superiority refuses to fight back?
The seductive, elitist mantra of "but aren't we better then they are? better than that?" means the only acceptable act of self defense, self-redemption in the eyes of the world is national suicide. Just ask the Jews.

Keliata said...

I recall reading a poem when I was in high school about a poet and his refusal to mourn (there's a difference between mourning and grieving.) It was called "A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire, of A Child in London" by Dylan Thomas:

"Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

"And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

"The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

"Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
"Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other."

That was probably the best poem I've read on public displays of anguish following a tragedy.

I wish I could have written an article along those lines, but for the first time in eight years had to submit my interview questions a month in advance prior to getting approval. SIGH.

Much of the commemoration we see happening on Sept. 11 reminds me of the C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholics I grew up around. They'd avoid church like the plague the entire year but once christmas rolled around they'd show up at Mass and then go around asking everyone else, "Did you go to Mass?"

It was never meant so much as a question but a statement: "Look, I'm a good catholic, I went to church."

Ditto on Ash Wednesdays. These type walk around all day dirty foreheads to prove to the world that they got ashes and were actually in church. Oh how religious they are.

We see the same type of behavior with many of the people who put their flags out on September 11. It's their ways of saying, "See! I care. I remember and if you don't have a flag flying and half mast you don't."

Next September 11 I too will refuse to mourn.

Sultan Knish said...

there's the same behavior among secular jews who will go to synagogue once a year for high holidays

then there's mother's day and valentine's day, greeting card holidays intended to throw out one day a year for the important people in your life

Tom Callihan said...

America is becoming wrapped in a cloth of martyrdom of its own as we become constant victims who sacrifice themselves.
What sacrifice?
Websters defines a sacrifice like this:
[From Sacrifice, n.: cf. F. sacrifier, L. sacrificare; sacer sacred, holy + -ficare (only in comp.) to make. See -fy.]

1. To make an offering of; to consecrate or present to a divinity by way of expiation or propitiation, or as a token acknowledgment or thanksgiving; to immolate on the altar of God, in order to atone for sin, to procure favor, or to express thankfulness; as, to sacrifice an ox or a sheep.
2. Hence, to destroy, surrender, or suffer to be lost, for the sake of obtaining something; to give up in favor of a higher or more imperative object or duty; to devote, with loss or suffering.

Those murdered by terrorists didnt willingly lay down their lives for some "higher" purpose.
They were squandered by filth who took their lives for no reason.

Americans should be fighting mad at this not satisfied with calling it some sort of religious high calling.

Keliata said...

We should be fighting mad Tom but most Americans are not. Liberals are too worried about terrorists and their civil rights; politicians are pandering to Muslims, and no one sees this as a matter of survival.

There's an old police phrase I heard once--"There are no swans in the sewer." America (like Israel) is up against terrorists who play dirty. They don't follow international rules of war. To beat them, we need to fight them with the same tactics they use to fight us.

Unless of course we want to remain respectable in the eyes of liberals even as our own citizens are murdered.

Yobeeone said...

I still vote for the correct response to 9/11 - wipe the arabs off the planet.

Jack said...

I like this post very much Knish.
Keep them coming

Liam said...

We are shouldnt act like victims
America needs to be like a Tigeress protecting her cubs.
When you get attacked you have to let the other guy know he was in a serious fight and give better than you got.

For each American that got beheaded, one Arabic city should have been blown off the map.
For each life taken in 9 11.. a hundred of theirs.
Since when they ask for prisoner exchange it takes hundreds of theirs to equal just one of ours.
Shows who is worth more.

Andy said...

Hi Sultan.
I pretty much read everyones response here. As much as I might not think of the events of 9/11 throughout the year but whenever I see the images it gives me a lump in my throught. I was not surprised when it happened. I knew it was long in coming. However, before 9/11, never could I shy away the thought whenever I saw a Middle Eastener at an airport whether this person is for us or against us. What shocked me was the magnitude of the casualties. For many years I've been reading since 99 about the suicide attacks in all kinds of locations in Israel. As bad as they are this just overshadowed it all. On the other hand it drives me insane that we seem not willing to acknowledge what Islam really is. We think we can talk it away, diplomatize it away. Surely there must be a way to redeem ourselves in the Arab street - for what. Yes, American administrations for decades would put Israel on the platter for access to oil. No matter how much this image persists that the US is an ally of Israel, it's not. The people for the most part, yes, but not the American Elite. But no matter how much we want to find fault in ourselves for any exploitation that we rendered on the Arab people perceived or not, Islam's goal is and always was since Mohammed to subdue the entire world to the house of Islam at the point of the sword if necessary if not even favored. And many people that would hear you say that just look at you like you came from the nanny farm. No, America lost it's will to fight and all the wars that it is fighting even dating back during the World Wars I'm afraid are for hidden motives other than what we long believed. Anyone interested should check out Francisco Gill White's "US an Ally of Israel?" on I'm not saying that he is authorative but even I recognize many events that I know from when I lived in Germany and it's like seeing puzzle pieces falling into place. By the way, he has an accelent piece how the Palastinian movement came to be and it's nothing less than the extended arm of Hitler's Final Solution. Worthwhile reading and pretty much historically accurate.

Post a Comment