Two full weeks it has taken me to come to terms with the memory of 9/11 since its five year anniversary.
Like many Americans, I can remember the shock I felt watching television that September morning in 2001. The shock partly came from the fact that the U.S. mainland had never been the site of a war in the 20th century, and here were images of disaster explained through the lexicon of war. The media ensured the shock would not be short-lived; it was emblazoned in our minds thanks to the repetition of the planes crashing into the towers, and the towers crumbling to their bases, traumatazingly repeated ad nauseum on our TV and computer screens, and in our newspapers and magazines, all the more confusing since their mediated state resembled years of well-watched Hollywood disaster flicks. This repetition of such “push button” images filled the sign 9/11 with fragile emotional material. Mentioning it may call forth unspeakable horror, inconsolable grief, insatiable anger, and exploitable fear and patriotism. It is a volatile sign that need not even be the object of an imperative, such as those older battle cries, “Remember the Alamo!”; “Remember the Maine!”; or “Remember Pearl Harbor!” And it has been endlessly exploited by some of the most well-known politicians in America.
9/11 has been exploited to justify a war in Iraq motivated by more than the will to fight global terrorism. It has been exploited to gain political ground by both parties and their multiple minions in media organizations. And its exploitation is evidence of a political culture where civil exchange and respectful reason-giving have become quaint notions in exchange for a communications war based on military propaganda and commercial sector PR and marketing.
Minutes after the twin towers were hit, politicians (they also happened to be mainly Republicans) saw an opportunity to bury American Federal social programs. The suggestion was, on the one hand, that the U.S. had become vulnerable to attack because of lack of resources channeled toward military security (forget about the largest military budget in the world) and siphoned away to social programs that, on the other hand, did not work and were abused by people who don’t really deserve them.
"Social programs” were immediately targeted as budget fat that had to be trimmed to support a lean, mean, re-beefed up national security state as a matter of immediate priorities.
Just as quickly, 9/11 became the grounds for Republican claims that Democrats had been lax on defense in favor of social programs, and for Democrat claims that Republicans themselves were guilty of a dereliction of duty in view of reports that the Bush administration had ignored evidence that Al Qaeda was planning an attack, which was dodged and parried before being sent back to Clinton’s doorstep (a strategy recently renewed in the fifth-year anniversary 9/11 films). Very quickly there were signs that 9/11 was a memory and a sign which would be the site of endless political struggle.