Today is September 11, 2006, the five-year anniversary of, um, September 11, 2001. (Does the day have an official name yet? According to one calendar in my house, it's called Patriot Day, but I refuse to accept that it would actually be given such a horrible title.) Here are a few 9/11-themed observations:
A topic is interesting in direct proportion to how closely it can be related to 9/11. This is the same syndrome that plagues local news (e.g., "Seventy-eight million people killed in earthquake in Pakistan. ... The Bay Area connection," or, "George W. Bush outlaws whistling. ... How this will affect your morning commute! News at eleven."). Similarly, every news story, every moment of special programming, everything but college football seems to be 9/11-themed in the few days flanking today. Even KQED aired an episode of "Nova" outlining the structural failings of the World Trade Center. (For some reason, state and local building codes didn't dictate that the structure be fuel jet crash-proof. What were they thinking?!) It seems that this obsession and this prolonged mourning, well, emboldens those who wish to hurt us through terrorist attacks. (I sound heartless, don't I?)
Many Americans still mourn for the victims of 9/11. Even those who had no personal connection to the victims of the 9/11 attacks (or even New York, D.C., or Pennsylvania) actually feel emotionally tied to the events of that day. While I'm enheartened by the outpouring of empathy our citizens are showing for complete strangers, I don't understand why 9/11 victims should be grieved any more than, say, the 99 innocent people who have been murdered in Oakland this year. My cynical guess is that people want to feel like ALL of America was a victim of 9/11; it makes us feel special. (Now I really sound like a jerk.)
Many Americans sincerely believe that their lives were changed by 9/11. Beyond the realm of airport security, many folks think that their day-to-day activities were significantly altered because of 9/11, but not in the paranoid "Rumsfeld is reading my e-mail" sort of way. Instead, it seems that people actually think that they need to be more alert and more suspicious, and that 9/11 was a huge awakening to the seedy terrorist underbelly that thrives within our borders. At the very least, people think that the economy is somehow less stable because of the threat of terrorist attacks. Again, quite cynically, I think this reflects an ignorance about secuirty and the economy, and a self-oriented desire to be part of the action. When I hear people in rural Texas worry about terrorists attacking their town, it kind of reminds me of the misguided narcissism of a "Waiting for Guffman" character. I'm officially a horrible person.
Many Americans are worried about more terrorist attacks in the near future. For some reason I'm not. What's the deal?
Religon is a way bigger deal than I realize. I live in a cozy little atheist bubble, wrapped up in a warm fleece blanket of secularism. I forget that some people turn to faith when they feel they're experiencing a personal or even national crisis. Religion very strongly shapes the everyday opinions and emotions of a huge chunk of Americans. It creates an identity, which sometimes leads to feelings of solidarity, sometimes to exaggerate difference. This ignorance of mine might explain my disbelief at the observations above.