Sept. 11 and our national culture of neglect

Six years ago, the theory was "everything has changed." The world's political climate was expected to shift drastically. We were told repeatedly that we now lived in a "post-Sept. 11" world. Most importantly, the most popular sentiments which graced the now-patriotic minds of U.S. citizens were all of positive, reinforced notions. "God Bless America" became the new mantra, as though the attacks themselves were a temporary lapse in our divine blessings. Most significantly, some variation of the phrase "Never Forget" graced T-shirts, bumper stickers and a variety of other symbolic talismans.

Why, then, have we become so adept at forgetting? The sentiment that we have been affected so deeply by the tragedy that we will never be capable of forgetting is reassuring. However, the reality of the post-Sept. 11 consciousness has little variation from that of the "Sept. 10" world. Though we certainly remember the attacks as they occurred, we have sought to exploit the disaster for profit, rather than to hallow it for its honor.

This is exemplified by the fact that even before the benchmark five-year anniversary, two major motion pictures had been produced (World Trade Center and United 93) for which the motivation was to remind people of the event. Unlike films that have depicted the events of Dec. 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor) or June 6, 1944 (Saving Private Ryan), there is no notable generational gap between the events and the core audiences of such films. The Sept. 11 films were produced so rapidly that those who were not alive for the events are too young to be in the core audience, and those who were too young to intellectually process the attacks when they occurred have not significantly matured. We either sought entertainment from our misery, or we legitimately forgot the true tragedy of the situation; neither is an encouraging possibility.

Furthermore, as a nation, we quickly forgot the suggested environment of unity through patriotism, replacing it with unity through mutual hatred. While no one can deny the hate that was promoted, both towards the purveyors of the attacks (i.e. Toby Keith) and towards ourselves (i.e. Jerry Falwell), very few are aware of the specific occurrences against the proverbial "other;" four days after the attacks, on Sept. 15, Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian immigrant of the Sikh religion, was murdered in Arizona. As a Sikh man, he wore a turban, and it was this perceived resemblance to the terrorist aesthetic (i.e. dark skin, beard, turban) that prompted the murder. When arrested for the crime, the suspect Frank Roque declared, "I am a patriot…I stand for America all the way!"

As a culture, we often neglect that which we cannot or do not choose to see. When September rolls around each year, our memories and sentiments momentarily rekindle. In spite of this yearly reminder, we have become adept at neglecting the ongoing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, which continues to precipitate American casualties each day. When we are not directly involved in a conflict (such as the current genocide in Darfur) we have almost no knowledge nor concern of the events, save the fringes of our political consciousness.

Each year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, we wax poetic about "remembering Sept. 11." It seems that, were we any good at keeping promises about remembering, we wouldn't have to make a spectacle of the tragedy. We promised that we'd never forget, but we clearly have not stipulated that we'd remember.