Monday, September 11

An unfortunate anniversary

The other day on one of the BBC shows on NPR, there was a debate about whether or not the U.S. should continue commemorating Sept. 11 or if we should just let it go. Some argued that by making a big deal out of it every year, we're lending credence to the terrorists' cause and publicizing their devastating effects for them. Others argued that an attack of that magnitude is something our country can't just forget about and move on, and that yearly commemorations are the best way to grieve and honor those who died that day.

I know I get sick of hearing about Sept. 11, and I debated even posting anything about it today. But it's not the actual events I get sick of hearing about; I get tired of how the whole sickening thing is used as political collateral by an administration that has absolutely squandered the collective goodwill the world felt toward this country in mid-September 2001. It's repulsive how "Sept. 11" is still so painful for everyone that the president and his pals can use it as a trump card to get away with whatever needs getting away with. And everyone feels powerless to call him on it because, well, we don't want to be the assholes to have to say, "Forget Sept. 11 for a minute; let's talk about how you're screwing things up RIGHT NOW and how you need to stop."

Who would have thought things would be so screwed up here five years later? Osama bin Laden is still running around making home movies, Afghanistan is taking a turn for the crappy, and thousands and thousands are dead in Iraq and elsewhere involved on this War on Terror.

Yesterday I went out to the Healing Field on Germantown Parkway to pay my respects to the soldiers who have died in the WOT. There are nearly 3,000 flags there, each with a yellow ribbon tied around it listing a soldier's name, age, hometown, and place of death. It's a simultaneously thrilling and appalling thing to see all those flags waving at once: Thrilling for its magnitude and appalling to imagine what that field would look like if actual people were standing there instead of flags. It would have taken me hours to look at every ribbon, and I guess to pay proper respect I should have done just that. But I didn't. I stayed as long as I could, looking at random ribbons and taking some pictures to send to my family. The vast majority of the flags were for 20-year-olds. It's sobering. And, frankly, it pisses me off.

I don't want those kids to be over there fighting an enemy we've yet to clearly define in a war that was ill-conceived and badly planned. How could you call my position anti-troop when all I want is for the troops to be back over here with their families, working menial jobs and drinking beer on the weekend, getting fat and bald but living the American dream of not being blown up by IEDs before they're even legally allowed to have a drink? All I want is for them to have good leaders in which to place their trust, leaders who won't use "Sept. 11" as a way to get whatever they want, despite the human toll it takes on our soldiers and the civilians of whatever country we happen to be squatting in.


Five years ago today, I was a sophomore at MTSU. I walked into one of my journalism classes at 10:30 or so and sat down, no idea that day was any different from the rest. Someone — I think her name was Katie and I'm ashamed I can't remember — asked me if I heard about the plane crash in New York. I hadn't heard a thing, and she didn't know much more than that it had happened.

Class, if I remember correctly, continued as any normal day. I don't recall getting out early or anything, and I don't recall talking about what was going on. So when we were finally dismissed, I made my way across campus to the Sidelines office so I could commandeer the television. When I got there, everyone was already gathered around it, and they updated me on what I had missed — both towers had been hit by planes. I guess by then, both towers had fallen. Whatever news channel we were watching kept playing things on a loop in a window on the corner of the screen. Some were content to just sit there and watch TV — we were all a bit overwhelmed — and forget about publishing a paper that night. But others said, no, this is the biggest event of our lifetimes and we need to get the paper out.

So we made the decision to devote the entire issue to the attacks and their ramifications in Middle Tennessee and on campus. Everything else seemed trivial, even more trivial than campus news seems any other day. So I got in touch with my parents to make sure everyone was okay and up-to-date on the news, and got to work on my story and assigning stories to other news reporters. It was insanity, the whole day. But we pulled everything together and I think it turned out pretty well to have come from a group of kids who skipped their classes to put out a newspaper about an event thousands of miles away that really only affected our community emotionally and, in the case of the airport, temporarily.

In a lot of ways, spending the day at the Sidelines office immsersed in the tragedy, piecing out narratives to tell, helped me cope with the magnitude of the disaster.

Five years later, though, I'm not sure I understand the whole ordeal any more than I did then. Why it happened, what it took for men to give their lives and take so many others in pursuit of a perverse vision of justice, my country's miscalculated revenge, the whole bit. I don't know anything, I mean really know. And, really, who does?

All the memorial services in the world can't change that. And that's the scariest and saddest realization of all.


Blogger John H said...

Spot on, Lindsey. Thanks for deciding to post on this subject.

Mon Sep 11, 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for posting on this. It's so befuddling to me that I go round and round in thought and land someplace near to Confused Oblivion. It's nice to see that others who just don't know still have something left to say five years later.

Tue Sep 12, 12:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Cox said...

Going back and re-reading many of the stories in the newspaper – particularly the Opinions section, and more specifically the so-called 'puff' editorial I wrote that pissed off Patrick and Colin so bad – what struck me more than anything else was the sense of confusion and how our sense of complacency was shattered. For once, we could honestly say we had no idea what was in store for us on Sept. 12 and beyond. To wit, this letter from Dr. Glenn threatening students who may riot, spraypaint the KOM or whatever it is the kids do these days:

The foreseeable future will be a difficult time for all Americans. There will be great pain and emotional suffering as we become increasingly aware of the exact magnitude of the human carnage that took place in the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001. A natural reaction to that emotional pain will be anger. Because I am concerned about that possible reaction, I feel it is my duty to make sure that the position of the university is clear.

First and foremost it must be understood that we do not know who is responsible for these terrorist acts. It is natural that we look to place the blame somewhere, but we must wait for responsible action from the government. It is not acceptable for any student to take his/her anger out on any other person or another person’s property.

Most students were not yet born when America last dealt with a situation similar to this. I am referring to the taking of American hostages by Iran in 1979. Most faculty and staff will recall that event as being very similar to this in one respect. At that time many innocent international students were harassed and threatened by angry Americans. In some cases it was not even necessary for the object of an attack to be Iranian, that person merely had to look the part.

Some of you may be tempted to act out your anger. You need to understand that the reaction of the university will be swift and sure. We expect all students to control themselves and conduct themselves as members of a civil community. You should remember that our international students are our students. They are not terrorists, and they are not connected with these acts in any way. The university is committed to protecting all members of our community.

Robert Glenn
Vice President for Student Affairs

Tue Sep 12, 11:15:00 PM  

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