Blogs > Cliopatria > September 12th Thinking

Oct 30, 2004 6:26 am

September 12th Thinking

One of the rhetorical tics of the Republican campaign has been to contrast Senator Kerry's"September 10th" view of terrorism with President Bush's"September 12th" view of terrorism.

But September 12th, 2001, is probably not the best day to model ourselves on, frankly. On September 12th we were victims, just barely beginning to think about the day after, absolutely unsure of what to do and what to think. We would have killed anyone, destroyed anything, to assuage our hurt and fear. We were hunkered down, we were paralyzed, we were in shock. Emotions were intense, raw, unfiltered by time or perspective. We were focused on one thing and one thing only: our pain, and our sense of embattlement.

That's how I remember it. I remember trying to teach, or rather, having a discussion with my students about Islam, military policy, the history of terrorism, who they knew and what had happened to them, what they'd heard and what they hadn't heard and what they needed to hear. I remember checking in with our college chaplain to see if our Muslim student population needed support or protection (Cedar Rapids, home to the oldest Mosque west of the Mississippi, had no anti-Muslim incidents, as it turned out, nor were our students harassed). I remember watching a lot of TV, listening to a lot of special reporting, having a little trouble calling family (my mother was stuck on the west coast on business) but generally trying to puzzle out what was going to come next. Absorbing the dozens of stories, and reporting and guesswork. We were six weeks from the birth of our son, and that was a powerfully sustaining and distracting component of our lives.

As an experiment, I did a google search using"September 13, 2001" and got a sampling of opinion and reporting which pretty well reflects what I remember from September 12.

Ann Coulter:"It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

Daily Utah Chronicle: Normal life suspended while investigations, personal and professional, proceeded and emotional healing began.

Texas A&M Battalion: international students fear backlash; Dallas Mosque shot at.

Colin Powell on Jim Lehrer: Saddam Hussein isn't supporting our efforts against terrorism, but everyone else is. Osama bin Laden one of the few terrorist leaders with an organization capable of these attacks [Ed - and if we knew that, what were we doing about it?]. Deflecting attention from the Saudis, but promising a long, hard campaign against not just al-Qaeda but all terrorist organizations (at least the ones that target Americans) and their state supporters.

Newsweek: Shock, trauma, global war,

Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald: Resist the temptation to lash out against those who resemble those who we think hurt us. [I think I remember reading this article, actually]

UCLA Asia Institute Roundup of Asian News Sources: Sympathy, tempered with great concern at the likelihood of Presidentially promised retribution creating backlashes large and small and critiques of pre-existing US foreign policy.

Matthew Yglesias (yes, the same one) in the Harvard Independent: Harvard's memorial services, community events, panel discussions, heightened security, but classes resumed.

There's more, of course. It's a mixed bag, for sure. Is it a good metaphor for what we want to be? Are the decisions we made that day the ones we want to be our lasting legacy? Does the Bush administration policy adequately reflect our real mindset on September 12th, 2001, or does it just reflect their own recollection of that sensitive and shaky time?

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Derek Charles Catsam - 10/31/2004

Jonathan --
I think you hit it exactly right. 9-11 was a vital, transformative moment. but sometimes how we are in the wake of such momets is not how we should be for the remainder of time as we deal with such a moment.