Perhaps the strangest thing about the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday is how it hasn’t managed to suck all the air out of the news cycle.
To be sure there are plenty of retrospective specials, most of the cable networks will be airing wall-to-wall coverage on Sunday, and the big newsweeklies have all issued anniversary editions (the best of which is far and away New York magazine’s ‘encyclopedia‘).
But this is more or less just an increase by degrees of what happens every year, and there is a sense in the air, at least here in New York City, of exhaustion with the topic.
Maybe it was last month’s hurricane that saw the shut down of the subway (for the first time since 9/11) and the evacuation of parts of the city for the first time ever that drained the city of its ability to gin up the sort of emotion one would anticipate from the milestone anniversary. Nothing reminds you of how terrible an actual emergency is like an actual emergency (or in the case of Irene, preparing for one).
Either way, four days before the anniversary, the news cycle remains consumed with Obama’s jobs speech, the economy, the GOP debate, and the generally dire outlook of the nation.
Which makes sense when you consider that many of the big 9/11 retrospectives put out so far seem to be drawing the same conclusion: America overreacted to 9/11.
The first person to float this was Bob Woodward in Foreign Policy:
“It’s so sobering for journalism: You think you know what something means, and you think something is a disaster. But maybe it isn’t. One of the big questions about 9/11 now: In the history books in 50 years, is the headline going to be “U.S. Overreacts to 9/11”? In other words, if there are no other attacks in this country, if we have strategically defeated al Qaeda. Or maybe the headline’s going to be “U.S. Wins the Cold War, U.S. Wins the War on Terror.” Or maybe it’s going to be “The Ongoing War on Terror.…”
In retrospect, the most consequential event of the past ten years may not have been 9/11 or the Iraq War but the looting of the American economy by those in power in Washington and on Wall Street. This was happening in plain sight—or so we can now see from a distance. At the time, we were so caught up in Al Qaeda’s external threat to America that we didn’t pay proper attention to the more prosaic threats within.
In such an alternative telling of the decade’s history, the key move Bush made after 9/11 had nothing to do with military strategy or national-security policy. It was instead his considered decision to rule out shared sacrifice as a governing principle for the fight ahead. Sacrifice was high among the unifying ideals that many Americans hoped would emerge from the rubble of ground zero, where so many Good Samaritans had practiced it.
But what we did know was that only one word really sufficed to define the scale and gravity of what had taken place: war.
The bait was meant to entice the United States into ruinous, polarizing religious warfare against the Muslim world, so that the Islamist fringe could seize power in failing Muslim and Arab dictatorships. The 9/11 attacks were conceived as a way to radicalize a young Muslim population through a ginned-up war of civilization against the Great Satan on the Islamist home turf of Afghanistan and, then, Iraq. It looks obvious now. It wasn’t then. We were seized with righteous rage, every ounce of which was justified. But the victim of a rape is not the best person to initiate the strategy to bring the rapist to justice. And we, alas, were all we had.
The NYT ran a piece over the weekend about how media outlets are walking a fine line in their coverage of the anniversary.
But one wonders, coming as it does in the midst of Obama’s jobs speech and the inevitable GOP reaction, and the dire economic numbers, if the impending retrospectives will capture the country’s attention in the manner we would have anticipated even a year ago. One gets the sense the catharsis they are aiming to provide is no longer necessary.
There will be many, far too many, stories written about 9/11, but the very bright Glynnis MacNicol may have managed to nail the story with this piece on www.businessinsider.com. Thanks to Glynnis for her usual great writing and for not being afraid to say what many of us feel.
- Frank Rich Takes a Look at the Fleecing of America Over the Last Ten Years Since the 9/11 Attacks (crooksandliars.com)