What follows are three strikingly different reflections on the latest 9/11 anniversary. While they don’t strike me as a Goldilocks combination, I can imagine that some readers will pick the one that is “just right” in their view. Others, like myself, may take a little bit of wisdom from each.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post criticizes what he perceives as the current “Washington” viewpoint of 9/11:
Nine-eleven just isn’t what it used to be. Residents of the capital will awaken to what is forecast to be another clear Tuesday morning, just like that one 11 years ago, and they will find that the day that changed the nation is becoming more and more ordinary.
In some ways, this is a good thing: Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda isn’t as scary, and Sept. 11, 2001, is on its way to joining Dec. 7, 1941 — more historical, less raw. Yet it’s also unsettling that the day is losing its power to make Americans pause. This is part of the general amnesia that led Mitt Romney to deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination without mentioning a country called Afghanistan.
The sheer volume of events shows how ordinary the day has become: Public-housing directors are having a legislative forum, health insurance companies are meeting to talk Medicare, CPAs are having a banking conference, the Cato Institute is attacking the IRS, a health group is recognizing Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is talking about the elderly.
Strangely enough, to me Milbank has penned a great testimony to resilience:
Less easy to understand is why Jeff Faile from Fiola restaurant chose 9/11 to give a “cocktail seminar” at A.M. Wine Shoppe (featured aperitifs: Cocchi Americano and Aperol). The nerve! Doesn’t he know he’s competing with the arts gala at the Mayflower?
No. Mr. Faile is living life and not allowing what Graham Allison refers to as “a band of terrorists headquartered in ungoverned Afghanistan” disrupt our lives forever despite that they “demonstrated that individuals and small groups can kill on a scale previously the exclusive preserve of states.”
Graham goes on in his International Herald Tribune article to remind us:
Today, how many people can a small group of terrorists kill in a single blow? Had Bruce Ivins, the U.S. government microbiologist responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks, distributed his deadly agent with sprayers he could have purchased off the shelf, tens of thousands of Americans would have died. Had the 2001 “Dragonfire” report that Al Qaeda had a small nuclear weapon (from the former Soviet arsenal) in New York City proved correct, and not a false alarm, detonation of that bomb in Times Square could have incinerated a half million Americans.
His underlying thesis:
Many are therefore attracted to the chorus of officials and experts claiming that the “strategic defeat” of Al Qaeda means the end of this chapter of history. But we should remember a deeper and more profound truth. While applauding actions that have made us safer from future terrorist attacks, we must recognize that they have not reversed an inescapable reality: The relentless advance of science and technology is making it possible for smaller and smaller groups to kill larger and larger numbers of people.
I believe that is one of many points most miss in their obsession with Al Qaeda and associated terrorist threats as the Alpha and Omega of this story. Juliette Kayyem of the Boston Globe takes a slightly, uh, different approach to the same storyline:
The e-mail had a simple enough subject line: “Al Qaeda.” It was from my cousin Karen, who also used to be my dentist. I have been, based on my government career in homeland security, the “terrorism expert” in the family. The e-mail came last year on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
“Can you help? I’m a little nervous now. My daughter wants to go to NYC for the weekend. But I just saw that they think there could be a 10-year anniversary attack there, so I don’t want her to go. She says I am crazy. I said I could contact you. By the way, how are your gums? Are you flossing?”
Dental care and Al Qaeda: Never before have the two been so closely linked. But there was something illuminating in Karen’s question, something that seemed to herald a different way of thinking about 9/11 as we head into yet another anniversary tomorrow. Terrorism has settled into a place on the list of our modern anxieties — next to gum disease and hurricanes — but it no longer looms as the overwhelming, existential worry that it seemed to be in the first few years after the attacks.
Maybe it has something to do with the distance of Boston from Washington, but she feels a little differently than Milbank:
It’s fitting, then, that the 11th anniversary is arriving tomorrow with little of the fanfare of past commemorations. There are no major public events. The anniversary has become personal, acceptable to remember in ways that are appropriate to the level of grief we still feel or the commitment of friends and family to the wars still being fought. As a nation, we will meet again in the initial post-9/11 spirit for only two reasons: the 20th anniversary or another terrorist attack.
And perhaps she paints the best picture of what resilience, in the general societal sense–not the uber-homeland security strategy sense, really means:
And as the politicization of the attacks fades, fear has been replaced by attitudes like my cousin Karen’s. Her question reflected the sincere desire of citizens to get realistic information about terrorism risks so that they can weigh the threat and make the best decisions. It’s not paranoia, just an honest attempt to better understand, and take responsibility for, bewildering information that is so often overwhelming and so rarely presented in a practical way.