ProgressiveHistorians Symposium: 9/11 at Six

Originally posted by Nonpartisan on 09/11/07

On August 15, we asked you to come up with some thoughts on 9/11 in historical consciousness:

“We should have a series of diaries reassessing September 11 and its historical impact (as well as its effect on progressive politics) on PH in time for the 6th anniversary. I think enough time has passed, and enough has changed politically, for us to be able to offer some fresh insights on how it affected American history and politics, and we can hopefully use the occasion to start to move beyond views of the event colored by immediate reactions in 2001 and toward more intelligent and reflective analysis.” — eugene

How has September 11 impacted American or world history?  How should it be viewed historically?  Politically?  What good things came out of its aftermath?  What should have happened that didn’t, either historically or politically?  How should we look to the event in future to inform our historical-political consciousness?  How has 9/11 defined our generation (whatever that may be) or our world?  How has it not defined us at all?

And in the intervening weeks, you responded.  Both the volume and quality of the responses wildly exceeded my expectations.  We received a baker’s dozen submissions from historical viewpoints as widely divergent as memory, literary analysis, visual imagery, and politics.  Taken as a unit, the pieces that make up this symposium stand as a shining testament to the ability of the blogging left to produce multifaceted analysis of real depth and import on both current and historical events.  Folks — you done good.

Links to the submitted posts are below.  Over the fold, I’ll post excerpts of the pieces.

Posted at ProgressiveHistorians:
Bastoche, Plus ca change
Bastoche, plus c’est la meme chose
Daniel K, Remembering Tuesday, September 11, 2001
eugene, Cold War Liberalism and September 11
James Livingston, 9/11 and Historical Consciousness
Jesse Hemingway, My take on 9/11
liberalamerican, The 9/11 Anniversary and the Awakening of the Sunshine, Makeshift Patriot
Mentarch, 9/11 And Back Again
Nonpartisan, 9/11: The Mouse that Roared
pico, Nous Sommes Tous Americains, and The Death of Irony
quarkstomper, Patriotic Images of 9/11

Off-Blog Submissions:
Jonathan Dresner (2006), That 9.11 Incident
driftglass, Sunday Morning Comin’ Down
Robert D. Feinman, A Multi-Year Stroll Around Lower Manhattan and World Trade Center “Ground Zero”
Shaun Mullen, The Tail of the Chimera: A Reflection on the 9/11 Terror Attacks & George W. Bush

[Image credits: view of Ground Zero — Robert D. Feinman; Uncle Sam cartoon — quarkstomper]

“…No matter where you stand on the subsequent “war on terror,” 9/11 taught us that history happened to us in our part of the world.  Our various exemptions from the vagaries and vicissitudes of the past-they are real enough to convince even professional historians that we Americans are somehow “exceptional”-could protect no one on that day.  The world was suddenly turned inside out, as the Other invaded our complacent calendars.

“But I would insist…that this invader, this reminder of the past, this marker of history, came from within as well as without.  It is not an inexplicable Other that we now must fear-our own political leaders, then as now, represent a much greater threat to the future of the republic than any number of so-called terrorists from a world elsewhere.” — James Livingston

“Even in the face of a serious tragedy, [Jean-Marie] Colombani pulls few punches.  But as mythology, Colombani’s headline [Nous Sommes Tous Americans] has outlived his article, to the detriment of our understanding the complexity of world sentiment after the 9/11 attacks.  The United States certainly received widespread sympathy and support, but the sympathy was not universal and the support not unequivocal.  That Colombani’s headline is often used as evidence to the contrary involves some seriously reductive history, especially towards the article itself.

“The same can be said of [Graydon] Carter’s and [Roger] Rosenblatt’s claim that the age of irony had passed.  According to the narrative both in published media and blogs, a serious (and seriously naive) America had recognized the death of ironic detachment because of the shock of 9/11, but as the years passed we recognized how short-sighted these editorials were, and we can no longer read them except with a certain sense of irony.” — pico

“After 9/11 we had the sympathy of the global community. “We Are All Americans” the French newspaper Le Monde famously proclaimed in solidarity. The New York Times carried a sub-headline (above) stating that Bush vowed “to exact punishment for ‘Evil'”. The perpetrators, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda were swiftly targeted in Afghanistan and it looked like they would be crushed by the military might thrown against them.

“But then we lost sight of the target and our leaders started telling us we needed to invade Iraq, a nation, Bob Woodward would inform us, that was a top priority immediately after the terrorist attacks, despite the fact almost all the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, and despite the fact Saddam Hussein was not involved. Suddenly, what was a righteous cause became an excuse to exact revenge of a different nature, of a personal nature, against a dictator of our own making, with the reward of untold riches in oil reserves. While Osama bin Laden escaped our sights in Tora Bora, retribution took on a new twist. The man Bush proclaimed we’d capture “dead or alive”, was now someone he was “not concerned” about anymore. The man they now wanted captured and brought to justice was a former ally, Saddam Hussein.” — Daniel K

“The events of 9/11, it seems, produced in Rudy Giuliani the same idealistic fervor that they produced in George W. Bush. That fervor has been shaped by the ministrations of his great tutor, Norman Podhoretz, into a potent ideological system. Rudy now accepts the fundamental neocon notion that a realistic foreign policy must anchor itself in the great American ideal of freedom and must commit itself to spreading that ideal to every other nation on earth. He sees clearly the nature of the new enemy we face: terrorist organizations supported by nations intent on eradicating freedom in the world and replacing it with fanatic tyranny. Drawing on that clarity of vision, he has concluded that the old methods of defense, containment and deterrence, will not work and must be replaced by the new ones of preemption and regime change. Finally, he recognizes that the Struggle in which we are now engaged will be a Long one. …

“Should Rudy prove successful in his quest for power, we will, of course, change one Republican regime for another. Ideologically, though, things will remain the same. And we will have to appropriate from Podhoretz part of the subtitle of his new book: our struggle against the neocon worldview will be a long one indeed.” — Bastoche

“By treating 9/11 as a mortal wound, by saying, as President Bush did, that “this war will end…but our remembrance never will,” America has betrayed a terrifying weakness.  In truth, we should forget 9/11 — not to cleanse it from our memories, but to expunge it from our nightmares.  Rarely has a nation that so dominated the world politically, economically, and militarily become fixated on such a small and insignificant threat as fringe Islamic terrorism; such a fanatical obsession with the minuscule Al-Qaeda is in fact the most shocking and incomprehensible outcome of the events of September 11.

“And so history will remember 9/11 as the mouse that roared, the thorn brushed in passing that somehow pierced the very soul of the nation, rending it in two and laying bare the stunning fragility of the American national character.  It will remember 9/11 as a small tragedy compounded by the much larger one of an America that cannot move on, an America that would rather run endlessly after phantom terrorists than focus on fulfilling its own great promise, an America that was diverted so easily from its great mission of world peace and world prosperity.” — Nonpartisan

“There’s nothing all that special about 9/11, either?. yet. What meaning 9/11/01 will have, its historical import, is still up in the air, no matter how much anyone claims that it must mean this or that, that things have or haven’t changed as a result. 9/11 was the largest act of terror to strike the United States, just as the Holocaust was the largest anti-semitic genocidal event, but neither of them stands alone and to focus all our attention on those events of such distinctive scale to the exclusion of myriad “smaller events” before or since is historically stunted, or dishonest. That so many people were so shocked by the event, and have yet to put it in anything like proper context or perspective, suggests to me that historians – not alone among scholars, but perhaps uniquely – have a long way to go in inculcating (recovering) our long-term vision, our sense of complexity of the world, our experience – indirect but nonetheless real – with cultural and ideological and technological change and conflict.” — Jonathan Dresner

“The initial decision to call General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker before Congress to deliver their hugely anticipated Iraq progress report on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was triply insulting.

“It was insulting to the victims of the attacks and their kin, to the nearly 4,000 American soldiers who have perished in Iraq and their kin, and to voters who went to the polls in the mid-term election last November to send George Bush a message that he has ignored:

We are sick of your lies and deceptions and your use of patriotism as a cudgel. Bring the troops home now!Shaun Mullen

“So – what exactly happened on the day after the fateful and tragic morning of 9/11?

“We lost and the terrorists won.

“Right there and then.

“Whatever else has happened in the six years which followed to this day merely constitutes the gradual and methodical enactment of the terms of our surrender.” — Mentarch

“…I chanced to hear a conversation between two Russian immigrants, one of them the clerk at the check out counter. The clerk was saying how he wished the Communists were back in power because the governments since had all been nothing more than a legalized mafia. His friend was nodding in agreement. Then when they realized I had walked in, the conversation took a very strange turn. All of a sudden the clerk began talking about how much he loved the United States of America. After I paid my bill and was walking out the door he said to me with almost an apologetic tone, “Interesting conversation, no?”  I said yes it had been an interesting conversation.

“Only after walking to my car did I realize what had happened (maybe because the experience was so disconcerting): this Russian immigrant who had been longing for the return of the Communists was scared as heck what this unknown American might do with his words.  That an immigrant from our former Cold War adversary was worried that an American who happened to hear a political conversation might turn him in was the cruelest of ironies.” — liberalamerican

“…The East Coast of the United States is the most protected air space in the world. Just that hurdle alone makes the government’s version of 9/11 impossible to believe[;] the contradictions of the physical science and the many anomalies surrounding all the crimes scenes that day is just an insult to the intelligence of the American public.” — Jesse Hemingway

“As we historians look back on September 11 and the political changes it wrought, we need to keep in mind the context. “September 11 changed everything” is a constant refrain. But like so many major historical events, change is relative. More importantly, change is limited by preexisting beliefs and assumptions. Americans processed September 11 according to those notions. For the right it merely verified their own hyper-imperialism, xenophobia, war-lust, and dislike of democracy. For Democrats, it showed yet again the need for and political value of Cold War liberalism.

“It is an attachment that shows little sign of abating. And its effects suggest that for American progressives, a primary challenge in the coming years will be to reorient the Democratic Party away from Cold War liberalism, and toward another kind of foreign policy, one that does not assert American hegemony, and one that does not rely on militarism and interventionism to accomplish its aims.” — eugene

“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. …

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

“And our country is the worse for it.” — Quarkstomper


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