Patriotic Images of 9/11

Originally posted by quarkstomper on 09/08/07

I was sitting behind a table at a craft fair about a month after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  I was doing cartoon portraits of people.  At least that was what I was supposed to be doing; our table was tucked away in a corner near the exit and most people who came by were hurrying on their way out.  To pass the time while waiting for customers, I pulled out my pad of bristol board and began drawing.

As I said, this was about a month after 9/11, and many of the vendors at the craft fair were selling patriotic-themed items: carved wooden Uncle Sams, painted plaster eagles, star-spangled quilts, that sort of thing.  And it got me thinking.

I saw a lot of patriotic imagery following the 9/11 attacks; some of it kitschy, a lot of it angry, all of it full of a fervernt love of country.

The one that I saw the most frequently was a picture I somewhat irreverantly called “The Tear-Stained Eagle.”  You’ve undoubtably seen it; it was reproduced and copied and imitated countless times.  The head of a bald eagle, seen in profile, with a large tear descending down it’s face; while in the background we see the burning Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

But a lot of the images I saw were angry.  I remember one powerful political cartoon from just after 9/11:  An American eagle with an expression of angry determination is filing its talons.  It captured the mood of the time.  And it was sadly prophetic:  we as a nation wanted vengence so bad that we were willing to go after anybody, whether they were guilty of the attacks or not.

Another eagle picture I remember was from a T-shirt I saw at work.  It showed an eagle in flight, coming straight at the viewer with it’s talons extended and it’s beak open in full cry.  The caption, incongruously, read:  “FREEDOM”.  It was a cool pic, but the caption should have read something like “PAYBACK” or “DON’T TREAD ON ME” or “I’M GONNA GET YOU, SUCKA!”

As I sat at that craft fair in the local UAW hall, I knew I wanted to draw something patriotic; but I didn’t want it to be angry or vindictive or even sorrowful.  I wanted to portray some of the qualities I think our country embodies at its best:  optimism, confidence, the spirit to pick ourselves up and work to make things better.  I like to think that these, rather than mere affluence or military might, are what make this country great.

Since I am a cartoonist, I drew a cartoon that I hoped would show these qualities; the qualities I hoped would guide us in the Post-9/11 world.

Uncle Sam

I was wrong.  Our leaders chose to invoke the Angry Eagle rather than Smilin’ Sam.

And our country is the worse for it.

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