Unhealthy remembering of 9/11.

July 24, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

I’m all for remembering, but only as long as remembering is emotionally healthy and oriented to an optimistic future.

About 15 years ago, I met a young man in a civil war museum in Virginia. Unprovoked, he stated that he was angry at “the North” because the North had defeated the South–and his great great great [great?] grandfather had  “fought bravely for the South. He was visibly angry as he told me these things. It was pathetic to see someone so consumed and defined the American Civil War. His way of remembering had trapped him in an endless cycle of anger.

In an article in Harper’s Magazine (August 2011) titled “After 9/11: The Limits of Remembrance,” David Rieff has expressed concern that many Americans are “remembering” 9/11 in accordance with the official George W. Bush explanation from 2001: We were attacked “because the terrorists hate our freedoms–our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” This form of “remembrance” has no room for any possibility that the attack was provoked, even in part, in response to the constant meddling in the Middle East by the United States, going back at least as far as 1953’s “Operation Ajax,” when the U.S. and Great Britain overthrew overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran as a favor to the oil industry.

Image - Creative Commons

If you Google “9/11” and “remember,” you’ll get hundreds of millions of hits. The sort of “remembering” most Americans seem to be doing about 9/11, however, is about “reaffirming of group loyalty rather than the establishing of historical accuracy, let alone the presenting of an event in all its moral and political complexity.”  I’m not claiming that all Americans remember 9/11 in this way, but based on many of the websites found in the Google search, this is a common way for Americans to “remember.”  Stretching credibility to the breaking point, many Americans remember 9/11 as a conspiracy in which the U.S. was a intentional participant.  Rieff warns, “to remember may not just mean to grieve; it may also mean to harbor a vision of securing justice or vengeance long after it is time to put the guns away.”

We do need to remember the people who were killed in the attacks. We need to remember the brave rescuers.  But we need to stop being angry at anyone other than those who participated in the attacks, because it is not fair to all Muslims and it is not healthy for us.   It’s time for us to carefully rethink how we are remembering the attacks. Are we remembering in a healthy way, or are we trapping ourselves in an endless cycle of anger? Is our way of remembering helping us deal with our future, or is it merely defining us as eternal victims and trapping us in a distorted version of the past?  Is our way of “remembering” cranking up bigotry?  Is it causing us to engage in needless wars?  Is it causing us to dismantle our civil rights in the name of “heightened security”?  Is our way of remembering encouraging us to re-engage with the world, or is it making us self-absorbed?

Rieff argues that we need to consider both the benefits and the risks for the types of remembering that we do.  “[O]ne has to consider the morally or psychologically unpalatable possibility that at some times and in some contexts forgetting may actually be preferable to remembering.”



Category: Ingroup/Outgroup, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. My mother's grandfather and my father's great-grandfather both fought for the south. My father used to call himself an "unreconstructed southerner," and my great-grandmother always said that even though she believed in the equality of all people and admired Lincoln's character, she thought he overstepped his authority by carrying on a war against the southern states. However, neither she nor my father ever plotted to overthrow the Federal government, nor would they have supported any such action. Even Robert E. Lee acknowledged that the time of the old south had passed, and a new united nation must be embraced. We can find injustices in every event in history, but that's no reason to live in the past.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There's enough hate to go around. In my early academic career, (K-12) I was never really interested in the Civil war as a subject. The less educated among the northern population that I encounted over the years seemd to believe that all of the south was accurately portrayed in such media masterworks as "Li'l Abner", the "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies, "No time for Seargents", and "Deliverance" (consider some of the Southerner characters in many Fox Network programs). It seems that southerners, are always being accused of "Still fighting the Civil War", often by northerers with little knowledge of the modern south. While it's true that there are some in the South who feel a resentment toward the north, much of it is founded in an anti southerner prejudice in the media.

    In college, I took third-quarter English course under a journalism professor who had us literally chose our term paper topics from a hat. As a further constraint, he required us to use only periodicals as referenxces. I drew "Economics and Politics: Civil war and reconstruction era." Researching the paper really opened my eyes. I realized that the civil war was brought about largely by corruption, partisan political strategies, and economic concerns. however, the working middle classes can be called to die for an ideology when they would never lay down their lives for the profits of the wealthy. The same is true of Iraq, where soldiers die believing they are liberating the people, but are actually protecting the profits of the oil companies.

    There were several failed attempts on the twin towers. Why attack the WTC? Well, to us there were just a couple of really tall buildings, but to the rest of the world, especially in the countries where people were exploited in the name of corporate profits, the WTC represented the power, corruption and imperial dominance of American Corporations.

    I remember 9/11 very well. I was dropping my younger son off at daycare, when one of the other fathers came in to pick up his daughter, having closed up shop when he heard the news. That day, almost all business shut down in Nashville, and in the evening, my wife (who is a Palestinian Christian) insisted that I go out and buy some kibbeh.

    Most of the Middle Eastern restaurants around the city were closed, and the few that were open were doing very little business. Almost no one was on the streets, and I found a place open several miles from my house, where a few Arab men were. I could almost smell the fear in the place as I entered, but fortunately, one of the customers was a friend of my brother-in-law and he recognized and vouched for me.

  3. You're right about the influential minority behind the Civil War. Most southerners at that time felt that slavery was an outdated institution that ought to be done away with. Both R.E.Lee and A.P.Hill made statements to that effect. But the cotton interest lined the pockets of southern politicians, resulting in secession. Most citizens felt loyal to their state — enough to die for their state's sovereignty.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    “[C]onsider a few figures: 4,442 American soldiers dead in Iraq, 1,584 in Afghanistan. As of March, $1.25 trillion spent to destroy and then fail to rebuild and stabilize those countries, a cost that has crippled our capacity to respond to an economic crisis that has devastated the American working and middle classes and reverberated throughout the world. Weighing on our collective conscience, also, are hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, tens of thousands of dead Afghans, millions displaced—the overwhelming majority of whom had nothing to do with Al Qaeda’s heinous crimes on 9/11. To this, add a legacy of distrust, anger and grievance against the United States that will persist for years to come.

    To salvage something from this lost decade, we should at least try to draw the right lessons from it.”


Leave a Reply