Today is the 12th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers in Manhattan. I don’t like to think about it. Even 12 years later, the memory of watching the whole, horrible spectacle unfold on TV all day is painfully vivid. Unfortunately, it became even more vivid because the TV at my house this morning was tuned to a news channel that replayed, for several hours, the same coverage of the event that it broadcast 12 years ago. I didn’t sit there and watch all of it, just enough to sink my spirits again.
Both before and after 9/11/01, worse things have happened in other countries, and I’ll admit that the emotional trauma I feel in thinking about this tragedy is a product of the fact that it happened in my own country. Tribalism is still very much with us, isn’t it?
Well, I don’t want to dwell on something so morbid (I don’t enjoy thinking about morbid things unless it’s morbid music). I also don’t know that anything good comes from this kind of remembrance; for me, it leads nowhere, it’s not intended to be political in any sense, it’s just an expression of grief, a grief that wells up inside on these anniversaries whether I want it to or not.
The memory, which makes me far more sad than angry, shifted me away from the metal I intended to listen to and moved me to a song by a one-man Swedish black metal band named Lustre, whose 2013 album Wonder (about to be released on the Nordvis label) may be the most beautiful one I’ve heard this year. It’s one of many I should have reviewed before now but haven’t. While I try to re-orient myself to what we usually do at NCS, I leave you with that simple but moving song. It’s name is “Moonlit Meadow”.
Well, I think there’s something a bit too much in American people with this concept of homeland, and taking maybe too personally when homeland is being attacked. I don’t want to judge anything, but in the eyes of the European guy, it’s somehow a bit strange. I don’t feel we’re that affected when something horrible happens in France…
Anyway, this Lustre album is indeed very beautiful. I discovered it a few weeks ago. One of the best black metal releases of the year so far !
I always thought (as an American) is that this wound was made deeper by the fact that the U.S. hasn’t suffered very many significant attacks from foreign powers on its own soil. You have to go back to Pearl Harbor to get something of quite that scale, and the 9/11 attack had more casualties than that by most accounts, and the insult to injury was having them be so overwhelmingly non-combatant casualties. Sure, Oklahoma City should rival 9/11, but I think the grief was more “confused” in a way by the fact that it OKC was done by a couple of home-grown white dudes, instead of some foreign “other” that we can safely generalize and hate on.
On the other hand, I think there’s something touching (in a perverse way) about the magnitude of the reaction. After all, if France doesn’t/wouldn’t react similarly to the same magnitude of loss, then I’d have to ask: Why not? Surely every nation has the capacity to mourn deeply for the loss of so many of its own?
That said, I was working in midtown the day it happened, and I saw and experienced a lot of crap, front row and center, that I could have happily lived without, but my post-9/11 reaction, I think, is similar to Mr. Islander’s. The remembrance part doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t want flag-waving and memorials–I mostly want to be left alone with it. Granted, my reaction is also in part caused by the quagmire that followed, and I can’t help be affected by the loss of life that followed as a direct result of 9/11, and the anger of feeling like the leaders of my country did things–some of them deeply shameful–without my consent or approval, and continue to do so. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
I think in France, we don’t have such a homeland feeling because we don’t have the same “of our kind”. It doesn’t historically mean the same thing for an American to be American than for a French to be a French. From the relatively recent independence of United States and the way it was built, from the cold-war era of “enlightening” the world by its power and its culture, it has given its people a strong pride to be “born in the USA” — if you know what I mean 🙂
And you just have to look to the speeches of American politics. They’re always talking about the good ol’ ‘Murrica, and do you know when people applause ? When they talk about their native state. People from Chicago applause when they talk about Illinois, and people from Jackson when they talk about Mississippi. You don’t have the same speeches in France at all ! It would be totally awkward here to praise our regions, and the politics in here don’t make these constant references. One of the most striking examples is Luther King’s speech. He’s got a whole excerpt dedicated to the enumeration of the states :
“Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
I’d say that this proud feeling about your origins, your homeland, and even more precise geographical references, has been necessary to make of the United States… united. There’s so much ethnic and social diversity that the leaders had to praise this diversity, and in the same time find a unity in the pride of being an American to maintain cohesion in the country.
In France, this is totally different because two wars began for the very reason that we were feeling too French, and our neighbors too German. The pride of being from a particular European country isn’t what I’d call taboo, but isn’t this far from being it. The “nation” concept is too much related to European nationalisms to us, and that has allowed to nip in the bud all the far-right movements’ legitimacy so far.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It wouldn’t have occurred to me how different ideas of nationalism might play into that.
Being a New Yorker at the time of 9/11, another thing I found interesting is that NYC is seen as more of an international city than an American city, if that makes sense, and that’s part of why there’s an “apartness” to it, as viewed both by its residents and the rest of the country. I had one person tell me right after that “even people who hate NYC feel bad.” …which was an extremely stupid way of putting it, but still.
Yeah. There’s a thing in the “nation” concept that is fundamentally and, I think irremediably, different between Europe and United States. In America, when you love your nation, you’re a patriot. In Europe, you’re a nationalist. That’s a sensible but meaningful difference.
Very interesting, and at least what you say about the US seems perceptive and accurate to me. But I also think Justin is right that 9/11 was so emotionally traumatic and horrifying in part because things like this just don’t happen here. We had a sense of invulnerability that was shattered. And of course we didn’t just grieve; because we’re America, our politicians had to seize the moment and use the tragedy to drag us into a couple of wars that helped shatter our economy in ways the terrorists never could have done.
It is also true, indeed, that thanks of our less emblematic international politic position, we never had fanatics to violently attack our country like some did to the United States. It didn’t prevent AQIM from declaring the djihad against France at the beginning of our intervention in Mali, though. We felt concerned about the problem, and it was widely shown and said in the news, but that didn’t raise any particular feeling of unity or nationalism against the “enemy”.
I have nothing to add really – I just want to say that comments like these is one of the reasons I keep coming back to NCS. Cheers.
To spin this on a positive note, I feel my generation, the ones in college now and in high school, will hopefully be more cognizant of overreaction to a tragedy like 9/11 was. I was only a kindergartner when it happened, so I only have hazy memories of the day itself and the immense national bond and national spirit that followed. My only vivid memories of 9/11 have to do with the consequences of it, the wars, the misplaced jingoism, and the economic downturn. Without the vivid memories of seeing the towers burning on TV as it happened, the realities I came into with the wars we were fighting seemed more irrational to me and to my friends. Hopefully these experiences of my generation will prevent us from being drawn into political overreaction like 9/11 did, rather than somber remembrance.
the last time i saw the towers in person was in 1998, i was attending the CMJ Conference. a friend and i passed between the towers on the way back to our hotel. 3 years later the towers were gone, and 5 years after that my friend was killed in a car crash.
call me shallow, but on the anniversary i don’t think about all that we lost.
i just remember standing between the two towers, looking up at their breathtaking height, and saying to my friend, “do you think they have a restroom? i really gotta pee.” and we both laughed and went on our way, none the wiser of what the future held.