American Elephants

How Do We Extract Meaning From Memory? by The Elephant's Child

There is extensive attention being paid to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Round numbers seem to make anniversaries somehow more important.  As Bret Stephens remarked in the Wall Street Journal this week, “there is some irony in the fact that our frenzy to memorialize is inversely proportionate to our collective capacity to extract meaning from memory.”

The memorials are being dedicated in ceremony. Pictures of the planes slicing into the buildings will be replayed.  I don’t want to see it any more — it is too familiar, and yet still too unbelievable. Mr. Stephens went on:

The war that was begun on September 11 has no bookend. We don’t even know whether we are in the early, middle or late chapters—or whether we’re still in the same book. Perhaps that’s why dates like November 13, 2001 (the day Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance) or April 9, 2003 (when Baghdad fell to the U.S. Army) go down the memory hole. I doubt many people can recall the exact date Osama bin Laden was killed.

So 9/11 remains a date and an event unto itself, somehow disconnected from everything that still flows from it. No doubt that helps draw a line between our feelings about it and the controversies over Iraq, Guantanamo, waterboarding, drone strikes, the freedom agenda and all the rest of it. But it also strips the day of any context, intelligibility or a sense of the greater purposes that might flow from it. This is how an act of evil and of war has been reduced, in our debased correct parlance, to a “tragedy.”

There is something dangerous about this. Dangerous because we risk losing sight of what brought 9/11 about. Dangerous because nations should not send men to war in far-flung places to avenge an outrage and then decide, mid-course, that the outrage and the war are two separate things. Dangerous above all because nations define themselves through the meanings they attach to memories, and 9/11 remains, 10 years on, a memory without a settled meaning.

I found my meaning in the fierce, determined, defiant American response, celebrating who we are in the face of terror.  This is the way I choose to remember:

Part 1.

For the remainder of this historic speech, continue below the fold
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