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Ten Years and One Month Later

Counter-terrorism fits perfectly with the current political mood. The United States gets to act without the risk of repercussions.

When I look back on the news cycle over the last two months, I think of 9/11 and floods. On the morning of August 28, I turned on the television and watched as the local newscaster showed the Hudson River lapping against the top of the concrete bulkhead, threatening to rush into the streets of Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. This spot was just a few blocks away from Ground Zero, where, as the scene shifted, we could see the site being prepared for the upcoming memorial event. As the storm waters receded, news outlets fixed their attention on this scene, and we found ourselves awash in a sea of commentary on the anniversary and the impact of 9/11 over the last decade.

This wave of analyses crested with The New York Times’ special section devoted entirely to 9/11, “The Reckoning: America and the World A Decade After 9/11,” which circulated in New York on September 10, with pieces on the families of victims, the memorial site, the wars that followed, and the economic cost of the tragedy and the Global War on Terror that followed in its wake. The front-page story filed by Robert McFadden on the afternoon of September 11, “On 9/11, Vows of Remembrance,” served as a capstone on the memorialization that had preoccupied the nation in these weeks. Using a different meteorological metaphor, the article noted that the many forms of commemoration in the weeks leading up to and including the day had steadily grown into an “ avalanche of introspection and analyses unrivaled since the turn of the millennium.”

Introspection is an interesting choice of words. It correctly observes but does not criticize the tendency of these commemorations to adopt an inward gaze in which the nation reflected on its own tragedy.

Most of this “reckoning” failed to fully account for the historical and international dimensions of 9/11. As the current commemorative impulse recedes into the past, the impact of U.S. foreign policy in many of the world’s trouble spots has been increasingly erased from the record.

The World: Ten Years and One Day Later

In his 2010 book, The American Way of War, Tom Engelhardt begins his analysis of the media coverage of 9/11 with a survey of The New York Times one day before the two planes struck the World Trade Center. An op-ed about the statistical chance of getting attacked by a shark stands in sharp contrast to the news of the following day, when apocalyptic images of terrorist attacks began to dominate the nation’s fears. As Engelhardt shows, we can learn a lot about the impact of 9/11 by studying the national mood in the preceding days and weeks, before the event took hold of the national psyche.

A similar, though converse logic could be applied to understanding the national mood ten years after 9/11. Though so much commentary was dedicated to the lead-up to the anniversary, there is much to learn from the subsequent days and weeks, as the formal reckoning fades from view and we are left with a more everyday sense of what is and isn’t remembered ten years after 9/11. 

Coverage of the memorial service at Ground Zero was still the lead feature on September 12, 2011, a special tribute to those who died that day before their names and faces inevitably recede from the front page and from the headlines altogether.

But already, by September 12, news of the world beyond U.S. borders was devoid of direct references to 9/11. There was a story about the lingering effects of the tsunami in Japan, a report on China’s sale of $200 million worth of weapons to Gaddafi in Libya, coverage of the transitional government’s crackdown on Al Jazeera in Egypt, a story about gunmen attacking British tourists in Somalia, an analysis of popular support for enhanced security measures in Guatemala, and an examination of fiscal crisis in Palestine.

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