'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From the Archives (9/12/07): The Failed 9/11 Celebration 

For the neoconservatives, 9/11 was an episode of orgasmic wish fulfillment. After all, it was the Project for a New American Century, the preeminent neoconservative think tank, that promoted the need for imperial conquest by stating, Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor.

On 9/11, they got it, and they quickly focused their attention upon what they considered to be most important, Iraq:

With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." – meaning Saddam Hussein – "at same time. Not only UBL" – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden.

Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn't matter to Rumsfeld.

"Go massive," the notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

By the afternoon of 9/11, the victims were no longer very important, except to the extent that they could be exploited to initiate open-ended conflicts around the world.

9/11 remains central, however, to the neoconservative attempt to create an enduring symbolism, the equivalent of a national holiday, like Veterans Day or Memorial Day, to fuse the American civic identity with overt wars of conquest. If yesterday was any indication, that effort has failed.

All around the country, rememberances were subdued, with lower attendance than in the first years after the attacks. By and large, it appears that they were deliberately depoliticized. From the accounts that I have seen, there were few, if any, attempts to associate the war in Iraq with 9/11. It seems that, paradoxically, the administration and their allies in the media are permitted to dishonestly defend the invasion of Iraq as necessitated by 9/11 every day of the year except 9/11 itself.

Needless to say, such reticence is not conducive towards the creation of a new patriotic holiday to inspire the populace towards greater and greater sacifices in the prosecution of the purported war on terror. The media is, naturally, apprehensive about this development. In the days before 9/11, reporters emphasized, with an undercurrent of anxiety, that most people were disinterested.

While tempting, it is not possible to solely explain this phenomenon in terms of the catastrophic failure of the invasion of Iraq. Going back to the infamous PNAC quote, the neoconservatives would have liked the public to embrace 9/11 as a generation embraced remembrances of Pearl Harbor, but they have fundamentally misunderstood the context of the public commemorations of what happened in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

Pearl Harbor is not something that the post-World War II generation remembered as a defeat, as a moment of victimization, but rather, they understood it as an event that ignited the participation of the US in World War II. Pearl Harbor set in motion the US victories in both the European and Pacific theatres of the conflict. Pearl Harbor is therefore an episode, albeit a very important one, within a large, grand narrative of US success, a success so great that the US, upon the conclusion of the war, was one of the world's two remaining superpowers.

By contrast, one cannot incorporate the attacks of 9/11/2001 within such a story. 9/11 is a manifestation of defeat and despair, a defeat in Iraq that worsens with each passing day, and despair over the inability to capture Osama Bin Laden, an embarrassment that he underscored with the release of a video tape and an audio message.

If there was any unifying theme in the 9/11 remembrances that took place all around the country, it was the helplessness of individuals involuntarily caught up in the intensification of global violence over which they have no control. The victims of 9/11 are therefore the kindred spirits of the people who have died in US airstrikes and suicide bombings in Iraq, the dirty wars of the Caucasus, Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon and the religious turmoil in Kashmir.

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