Memories of an Anniversary, A History Boy, 12/09/2016

This one is about September 11 and its strange mythology. The event doesn’t even really seem to exist in the American collective social memory, as far as I can tell. Yes, we talk about it. The ceremonies are there. But a real reckoning with that horrifying day and its meaning remain absent from our society. At least on the aggregate level.

September 11 is an erased presence, constantly hovering in the American cultural psyche, but never directly confronted. 

I don't know that any one day’s events have been so traumatizing to American (and wider Western) society in generations. Pearl Harbour is, I think, comparable, but it doesn’t have the same international resonance as the social-psychological horror-blast of the World Trade Center’s destruction.

When Pearl Harbour was bombed, most of the world was already at war – continental Europe under Nazi German occupation, China and southeast Asia under the boots of the Japanese Empire. The rest of the world’s trauma was ongoing.

September 11’s trauma was not just through the shock and surreality of the event itself – the crumbling towers and dust overcoming ordinary peaceful Manhattan – but the immediately visibility of the event around the world through our media. Hundreds of millions of people saw the towers fall as it happened.

But the American people were traumatized most of all – it was an attack on their country. I remember the shock and horror of the event, but I remained a little separate from it. The attacks happened to my neighbour. However close America and Canada may be in many ways, I am not an American.

Rudy Giuliani and George W Bush at Ground Zero,
overseeing rescue and recovery efforts after the
September 11 attacks.
Americans have the most to work through and confront in themselves and their own culture about what that mass trauma did to them. Yet Americans have done the least reflection on the cultural soul that was scarred so deeply 15 years ago. 

In the immediate aftermath, Americans turned to revenge – the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the war on Al Qaeda was a matter of retribution to them. George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the administration then used the hunt for Al Qaeda and its allies into an excuse to pursue the invasion of Iraq.

That war in Iraq was motivated by neoconservative dreams of an American military empire, and the belief in the necessity of an American war machine to guarantee the freedom of their allies, or the perverse utopian dreams of Project for a New American Century that a mass-scale military invasion could install a thriving democratic political culture.

Yet that war was little more than an orgy of violence – prisoner abuse; the use of white phosphorous weapons in Fallujah, where thousands of civilians were burned alive and its pollution continues to ruin lives with birth defects and kill with cancer; the constant brutality of the American mercenary armies

Through all the Bush years, America as a wide culture turned away from reckoning with the damage September 11 caused the national psyche.

That looked to change with the prospect of the Obama Presidency. But the Republican Party quickly turned from its defeat into ignorance of their leadership’s horrifying blunders and intentions. 

They instead turned to a single-minded dedication – vilify, delegitimize, and destroy Barack Obama no matter the cost. By doubling down on the racist opposition to the Obama Presidency – the popular attitude among a vocal minority of Americans that a black President was inherently illegitimate because of his blackness – Republicans saw a route to electoral victory.

The Nisour Square Massacre in Iraq, when US-
employed mercenaries at Blackwater killed 17 and
wounded 20 after starting a shootout when they saw
a woman and her son driving a car suspiciously. Just an
average day in the American occupation.
So instead of turning the collective conversation of American conservatism to grow from the mistakes and horrors of the Bush years, that whole society of conservative America turned to an aggressive campaign against Obama.

That turn in conservative America has now become an aggressive campaign of white nationalism. The Republican Party, having embraced racially motivated hatred of Obama to regain state power, facilitated the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency

Ironically, it will be the staunchly America First Republican party who installs a stooge of Vladimir Putin in the White House as they embrace the white nationalism of Trump and the alt-right. 

Trump’s campaign has been run by pro-Putin political consultant Paul Manafort (still an influential foreign policy voice, though he was forced out of his campaign leadership role). His aggressive white nationalist agenda is the American equivalent of the Russian white nationalism that Putin’s foreign policy encourages to undermine democratic governments and movements in former Soviet Bloc states. 

One of their major funders is Peter Thiel, the immortality-obsessed oligarch who has worked for years – with growing success – to destroy a free press, and who declared democracy incompatible with freedom

Trump’s campaign is likely using former FOX News head Roger Ailes’ dossier of damaging info on many influential media figures to strongarm them into favourable coverage. Meanwhile, his campaign manager Steve Bannon runs the white nationalist news site Brietbart, which has cultivated the alt-right and its online bullying culture to explode onto mainstream America.

Trump launches his campaign to become President. The
most infamous escalator ride in history.
In all of this is a refusal. The refusal to consider what September 11 did to American culture and self-consciousness. It culminated in what I consider one of the most revealing moments of madness the Trump campaign has produced.

This August, Rudy Giuliani said in a live media interview that there had been no radical Islamist terror attacks in the United States before the Obama Presidency. Giuliani had been mayor of New York City on September 11, and worked with President George W Bush at the Ground Zero site. 

While the context of Giuliani’s interview made it clear that he was referring to the years under the Bush Presidency after the World Trade Center attacks, the message was still an erasure. 

September 11 became something to be avoided, fought against, a matter of pain and fear. All the ceremonies and anniversary solemnity can’t achieve a genuine reckoning with its meaning. What matters is that there must never be another September 11, that the event inspire fear of its repetition. 

The fear and hatred American politics has used September 11 to build has erased the event’s own meaning and significance. America is still trembling even as the culture believes itself strong and growing stronger. Americans’ refusal to face the terror of that day in its fullness has seen them embrace the politics of perpetuating terror themselves. 

As I’ve grown from age 18 to now, that descent is what I’ve seen of America. And it terrifies me.

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