A decade ago, I looked back at Sept. 11, 2001 on its 10th anniversary, recalled its “crashing planes, burning buildings, tumbling bodies” and noted, “it hardly needs to be recounted now.”
Of course not. Because the wounds of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacked flight that went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were too fresh to require much description, but too raw to overlook.
Remembering was a duty. The lives lost that day — almost 3.000 — demanded attention. Demanded to be put into context, to understand how enormous a loss it really was.
“More Americans died on 9/11 than in the War of 1812,” I wrote. “It was the bloodiest morning on American soil since the Civil War.”
Things have changed. In 2021, we don’t need to reach into the 19th century in search of perspective. We can look back to a week ago Thursday — 9/2 — a date which will live in obscurity, when 2,937 Americans were killed by the current foe attacking our country, COVID-19.
Or Feb. 10, when 3,254 died. Or Jan. 21: 4,135. Or hundreds of other days. About 650,000 Americans slain, out of sight, the nation hardly noticing, never mind honoring its loss. Yet killed all the same by a far more lethal foreign assailant.
It’s impossible to weigh 9/11 without looking around at today.
Okay, it is possible. Lots of Americans do it. Post the black velvet painting of an eagle shedding a tear, crank up “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Too many Americans wallow in that kind of thing, indulging their infinite capacity to portray themselves as victims, continually attacked, suborned, betrayed, their recent election victory snatched away by forces they can’t identify, in a fashion they can’t explain, never mind prove.
To them, 9/11 is a gift, the gift of being wronged, which gives them carte blanche to unleash their inner demons. A convenient moment to take out the syringe of self-pity and shoot up. A godsend, a chance to hate the people they already hated, to lash out at immigrants, the dark-skinned, people of a different religion.
Could there be a greater disrespect? To turn 9/11 into an excuse.
Sept. 11 hurt our nation, and caused unfathomable suffering to the innocent. But those precious lives lost were only the start, the initial hurt, the center of an expanding shock wave of damage that followed. The wars in countries that had scant connection to the attack: Iraq, Afghanistan. Installing a ridiculous security theater that has billions shuffling shoeless through airport checkpoints, losing lifetimes in a different way. Creating a sadistic mockery of our legal system at Guantanamo Bay. Failing to care for those first responders who rushed to help, who worked the pile, and came down with diseases from the airborne debris. Easy to venerate a photo of three firefighters raising a flag on the rubble. Much harder to treat them for leukemia.
Sept. 11 made many Americans afraid, and a frightened population will follow a supposed strong man peddling the addictive drug of perceived safety, a fraud who promises to keep all the enemies at bay, then tries to wish away the ones he can’t, like a rapidly spreading disease.
Sept. 11 led to 20 years of American policy failure. Yet how can the response to 9/11 be criticized when COVID-19 represents failure on a grander scale? From the botched early reaction, when the disease was ignored and minimized, to now, when the intellectual heirs of that initial shameful surrender are seen across the country, unashamed, vigorously causing new deaths through vaccine refusal and an almost insane bias against masks and social distancing. How can we even pretend to solemnly mark a disaster of 20 years ago in the midst of such a widespread, ongoing calamity? It’s like holding a little candle ceremony in the chapel of the airport, joining hands and singing “Amazing Grace,” while an army of terrorists slip box cutters into their carry-ons and set out on today’s attack through unguarded gates.
How can you pretend to honor first responders of 20 years ago while mocking the nurses and doctors battling on the front lines right now? You can’t. Or at least, you shouldn’t. We suffer a Sept. 11 of loss every day. Sept. 11 was an outside attack, committed by enemies. COVID-19 is an outside attack magnified by our own ignorance, malice, fear, disunion and distrust.
Remember that on Saturday.