Thursday, September 14, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 10 Comments
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.