Tom Engelhardt, a fellow at the left-leaning The Nation Institute and a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, says it’s time for the United States to “bag” remembrance of the September 11 attacks.
In an op-ed for Al Jazeera English, Engelhardt calls for an end to all things 9/11 and asks, “haven’t we had enough of ourselves?”
In Engelhardt’s view, there’s no need to read the names of those lost, to bring past and current presidents together, to honor first responders or to have moments of silence.
It doesn’t take long, though, for his thoughts to extend far beyond the reaches of the horrific terror attacks that took America by storm just 10 years ago. In dismissing the need to memorialize, he writes:
If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.
Apparently, Engelhardt sees the way in which America handles the anniversaries of September 11 as weak. Or, at the least, he views the observance and behaviors as inappropriate at this juncture. “If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left,” he writes, “isn’t it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness?”
Regardless of one’s political opinion (and Engelhardt’s can certainly be described as left-of-center), it’s practically impossible to wipe such a horrible event off of one’s mind — let alone the minds of a collective society.
While Engelhardt knows that such a prospect isn’t possible, he wonders why America won’t stop exploiting “the anniversary remembrances,” writing, “We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are.”
But none of these thoughts appear to be rooted in a frustration with 9/11 itself. Instead, Engelhardt seems to see a connection between observance and federal policies he vehemently dislikes. He writes:
No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money. No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.
He contends that the victims of 9/11 have been “misused” and he laments the blood that is on America’s hands as a result of the Middle Eastern wars that have been launched over the past decade. Additionally, he calls the attacks “in every sense abusive, horrific acts.”
“Abusive” is an adjective some would say is too mild to address what occurred in America just 10 years ago. An accidental use of a weaker descriptive? Possibly. But as the op-ed goes on, other instances of downplaying what occurred on 9/11 are glaring. For example, consider the following (highlights are mine):
The facts of 9/11 are, in this sense, simple enough. It was not a nuclear attack. It was not apocalyptic. The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was no mushroom cloud. It was not potentially civilisation-ending. It did not endanger the existence of our country – or even of New York City. Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives. […]
Despite the screaming headlines, Ground Zero wasn‘t Pearl Harbor. Al-Qaeda wasn‘t Japan, nor was it Nazi Germany. It wasn‘t the Soviet Union. It had no army, nor finances to speak of, and possessed no state…
After delivering this blow, Engelhardt reinforces his view that the U.S. is “tattered,” in decline, “teetering at the edge of financial disaster,” has a mess of an economy and is experiencing “weird weather,” among other negative statements. And don’t let him catch you calling Ground Zero “hallowed ground.” Engelhardt believes that it is “defiled ground” and that it is we, as Americans, who have caused it to be so.
He laments: “It could have been different.” To Engelhardt, 9/11 was exploited by politicians to secure “a blank check for the American war state.” He continues:
It’s a terrible thing to ask those still missing the dead of 9/11 to forgo the public spectacle that accompanies their memory, but worse is what we have: repeated solemn ceremonies to the ongoing health of the American war state and the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden.
Engelhardt’s piece is sure to inspire controversy. Its declaration that America is immensely flawed and its seemingly dismissive — though cautious — undertones may infuriate those who read it.
In the end, he is entitled to his opinions, though they certainly are far off from the mainstream. Ironically, his comments mirror those of New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman, who called memory of 9/11 “an occasion of shame.”