Grief and Justice

9/11 six years later

Where were you on September 11, 2001? I'm pretty sure that you recall. I was at home listening, as I customarily do, to NPR, which reported that an airplane had apparently just crashed into the World Trade Center. On her way to work, my wife called me from her car, asking if I'd heard the NPR report. We talked about it briefly and I speculated that it must have been a sightseeing plane that somehow went off course.

I went upstairs to finish up writing a column and turned on the television next to my computer. The TV was showing live video of a lot of smoke coming out of one of the World Trade Center towers. I wasn't too alarmed, and the newscasters seemed puzzled about what was going on. Then it happened. As I watched, I saw the second plane slam into the other tower. The shock was instantaneous and profound.

I immediately called my editor, who picked up his phone and said something like, "Ron, got your column in yet?" I asked, "Do you have your television on? If not, go turn it on. We're under attack." He could hear my stress. My wife called to say that everybody was being sent home from her office. Like most Americans we spent the day in front of our television watching as the horrific events of 9/11 unfolded. Shortly after the atrocities—the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the crash of United Flight 93—like most Americans, we hung flags in solidarity.

Now, six years later, you can't help but wonder: Has 9/11 fatigue begun to set in? An article in the September 2 New York Times quotes some Americans who are weary of 9/11 rituals of grief and remembrance. A computer trainer said, "It seems a little much to me to still be talking about this six years later...you get on." And a nurse asks, "I may sound callous, but doesn't grieving have a shelf life?"

In Disaster Ritual: Explorations of an Emerging Ritual Repertoire (2003) a couple of Dutch researchers analyze how public spontaneous responses to calamities have emerged in recent years. The researchers identify "four fixed pillars" of disaster rituals. They are "the silent procession, the collective service of remembrance, a monument, and annual commemoration." A year after the attacks, New Yorkers participated in a candlelight procession from Union Square to the World Trade Center site. Of course there were numerous collective services of remembrance, and church attendance surged by as much as 25 percent. The first "monument" to the event was the Tribute in Light in which 88 searchlights formed two columns of light rising from the World Trade Center site on March 11, 2002. Work has begun on the permanent memorial, Reflecting Absence. And this year will see the sixth annual commemoration of the atrocities.

So does grief have a shelf life? The answer is clearly yes. Americans have gone through all of the disaster rituals, and normal life has more or less returned. Since 9/11, the U.S. economy has grown; gross domestic product has risen by 17 percent. The Pentagon has been repaired and while the skyline of New York is forever marred, the city itself is flourishing.

On a personal note, I can now watch the videos of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers and of the smoldering hole punched into the Pentagon without tearing up. Though I must admit some videos are still pretty tough to take. While the 9/11 videos no longer make me grieve, viewing them reignites my fury for our attackers.

The disaster rituals are done, but we lack one important element: resolution. The men who orchestrated the atrocities have not been brought to justice. And they still threaten to attack us. The current issue of Newsweek reports, "Intelligence officials in Europe and America have spent a jittery summer seeing signs that Al Qaeda is gearing up to hit the West in some significant way."

The Bush administration has used the continuing threat of jihadist attacks to justify all kinds of intrusions on our liberties. Such intrusions include everything from the so-called Protect America Act that authorizes secret domestic spying to the once unexceptional freedom to walk into public buildings without being forced to show your identity papers and submit your belongings to x-ray searches.

Just nine days after the 9/11 atrocities, President George W. Bush declared to a joint session of Congress, "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." The masterminds behind 9/11 were rooted out of their safe camps in Afghanistan, but they remain at large. While grief may fade over time, the desire for justice never will.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His most recent book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, is available from Prometheus Books.

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  • ||

    "The men who orchestrated the atrocities have not been brought to justice."

    Not true. The actual operational mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been captured. Of course there won't be real resolution when, if ever, Bin Ladin and Zawhiri are killed (stress killed and not dies of kidney failure, etc.) or captured. So maybe it's a bit of nitpicking on my part.

  • ||

    Having 9/11 relentlessly exploiter for political benefit by the President, Giuliani, neocon talking heads makes me even more weary of 9/11 remembrances than I would be otherwise.

    They've managed to take a national tragedy and in the space of six years turn it into a punchline.

  • ||

    should read, "exploited".

  • ||

    We got Saddam Hussein!

  • ||

    The market is doing well, unemployment is down, more Americans have houses than at any time before, the world fears us, all in all, I'd say we're doing pretty well.

    If only Democratic insurgents would stop seducing our Congressmen.

  • ||

    And a nurse asks, "I may sound callous, but doesn't grieving have a shelf life?"

    Are you kidding? I know people who are still milking the Kennedy assassination.

    You're going to be hearing from the Cult of 9/11 for a loooooonnng time, baby!

  • ||

    If only Democratic insurgents would stop seducing our Congressmen.

    I declare Joe Foxwatcher the winner of this thread!

  • jimmydageek||

    Now, six years later, you can't help but wonder: Has 9/11 fatigue begun to set in?



    9/11 fatigue was here long ago...except by media types and politicians who can't get enough of it.

  • jimmydageek||

    Same thing for Diana's death...it may have been a sad moment 10 years ago...but now very few people would give a fuck if not for the media making a big hoopla of the 10 year "anniversary"...

  • Penry||

    Ron,

    For not once using the word "closure", I offer my most sincere thanks.

  • ||

    jimmydageek,

    Notice how you've never seen bin Laden and Princess Diana in the same place at the same time. Hmmmmmmm.

  • ||

    Thanks, Ron, for using the correct term, "atrocities," instead of "tragedies" like most people do.

  • ||

    PL

    I don't believe it. The beard could be fake and the head scarf covers a lot, but how would he ever cover that nose?

  • ||

    Same thing for Diana's death...it may have been a sad moment 10 years ago...but now very few people would give a fuck if not for the media making a big hoopla of the 10 year "anniversary"...



    Other than the obligatory "too bad somebody died in an auto accident" commiseration, I didn't give a fuck 10 years ago. I know, i'm cold, cruel and heartless.

  • Rhywun||

    Thanks, Ron, for using the correct term, "atrocities," instead of "tragedies" like most people do.

    Good point. That bothers me too.

  • ||

    I didn't give a fuck 10 years ago. I know, i'm cold, cruel and heartless.

    When Dan Rather came on to tell me that Diana died, I laughed, then I got pissed because the show that I was watching got interrupted. Apparently I'm worse than you.

  • jimmydageek||

    Other than the obligatory "too bad somebody died in an auto accident" commiseration, I didn't give a fuck 10 years ago. I know, i'm cold, cruel and heartless.



    Those were pretty much my thoughts of the incident as well. However, I acknowledge that many people really liked her...

  • ||

    J sub D; Warty; jimmydageek

    Agreed. Like Warty, I was pissed off because there was something else I wanted to watch which was preempted by an endless repetition of the few known facts by various talking heads.

    Same thing happened when JFK jr's plane went down.

    Both items were 90 second bulletins at best. The celebrity junkies then could have switched to Fox.

  • ||

    Mother Theresa's 10 year anniversary of her death is today. Not as pretty as Diana, though.

  • ||

    Good piece, Ron.

    Pig Mannix, did you go to a public or Catholic school in Massachusetts?

    Every freaking year, at least one teacher would go all trembly and tell us exactly where she was and how she heard when Kennedy was shot, two or three decades previously. You too?

  • Urkobold™||

    THE URKOBOLD DID HER.

    EITHER ONE--THE BRITISH WHORE OR THE NUN. THE NINETIES WERE A BUSY TIME FOR THE URKOBOLD.

  • Russell Seitz||

    Ron, you have no idea of how much more remains to be seen- and remembered :
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/04/apocalypse_rega.html

  • ||

    Mother Theresa's 10 year anniversary of her death is today. Not as pretty as Diana, though.



    I don't like what that indicates about the shallowness of our culture

  • Sean Connery||

    J sub D,

    Could be worse, laddie. Our society could find Terri hotter than Di.

  • ||

    joe | September 5, 2007, 2:31pm | #

    Good piece, Ron.





    I think Ron just fainted.

  • ||

    Bailey's pieces about ideas and culture are always top-notch. His transhumanist stuff, for example.

  • Bill Pope||

    Ronald, before you get too immersed in your anger and justice-seeking over 9/11, you would do well to acquaint yourself with the crimes of the US and its allies in the building of the American empire. The body count of those victims (600,000 + in Iraq alone) dwarfs the number who perished that terrible day. Any book by Chomsky would be a good place to start, if you can stomach the thought of being a citizen of a nation that routinely commits what it labels terrorism when done by others.

  • ||

    I was at home listening, as I customarily do, to NPR

    Any irony to a staffer from Reason listening to a heavily state-subsidized radio station that plays stuff that free market radio stations won't?

  • ||

    Bill Pope: If you're counting up bodies killed by various regimes take a look at R.J. Rummel's work at Democide Information Service.

    In Death by Government Rummel estimated that more than 169 million people were murdered by governments in the 20th century, over 138 million in totalitarian states, 28 million by authoritarian regimes, and 2 million in democracies (mostly due to the aerial bombing of enemy cities during wartime). He recently increased this figure to 262 million due to further research into deaths in China and Africa. The reason for this century's high death toll is due to the increased population and the industrialization of mass murder, notably by the Chinese and Russian communists and Nazi Germany.

  • ||

    Ronald, before you get too immersed in your anger and justice-seeking over 9/11, you would do well to acquaint yourself with the crimes of the US and its allies in the building of the American empire.

    Why?

    Would the deaths on 9/11 be any less worthy of anger or justice? Any more justified?

    As a good Chomskyite, you should recognize the value of leaving "enemy of my enemy"-type thinking to the Kissingers of the world.

  • ||

    Ron Bailey, Don't confuse the issue with facts. You must be some sort of fascist to assert that our government, though extremely flawed, isn't near the top when in comes to atrocities.

  • ||

    """if you can stomach the thought of being a citizen of a nation that routinely commits what it labels terrorism when done by others."""

    Not surprising from a country that was founded by terrorist, so the FBI's definition of terrorism would conclude. Which might explain the current admin's disdain for the Constitution. It was written by terrorist.

  • Bill Pope||

    Ronald, I am very aware of the horrendous death tolls inflicted by totalitarian regimes throuout history. My point is that Americans should not wallow in a bewildered sense of victimhood hiding behind the conceit that "they hate us for our freedom". No, they hate the US government for doing things routinely to others that would amount to a declaration of war if done to Americans. Chomsky's solution is simple (though unfortunately radiacal): bring the terrorists to justice and stop engaging in terrorism ourselves.

  • ||

    The Republican party has made 9/11 grief a permanent part of their platform. I fully expect to see a GOP campaign ad displayed on the holographic entertainment pod of my hovercraft reminding me that 2 decades ago on 9/11 everything changed and that the Islamic boogeymen still hate me for my freedom.

  • ||

    In 20 years, at the way we are going. What freedom?

  • ||

    My point is that Americans should not wallow in a bewildered sense of victimhood hiding behind the conceit that "they hate us for our freedom".

    Why are you making this point to Bailey? He didn't do any such thing.

  • ||

    Pig Mannix, did you go to a public or Catholic school in Massachusetts?

    Every freaking year, at least one teacher would go all trembly and tell us exactly where she was and how she heard when Kennedy was shot, two or three decades previously. You too?


    Neither - public school in Illinois. But it was just as intense here. I don't think I've heard the end of it yet.

  • Minion of URKOBOLD||

    Although the URKOBOLD claims to have "done" her (before Princess Di did, of course (ha ha. get it? Princess "die" did - oooh! how clever! I just earned a batin session!), she first caused troubles with the URKOBOLD driving school (more on that hier)

  • iih||

    9/11 was one of the saddest and, personally, scariest days of my life. I was with a staunch republican, and former F-117 pilot who served in Gulf I and the Balkans, colleague of mine. We had disagreed from day 1 when we met on pretty much everything that has to do with politics and US foreign policy. On that day both of us knew that we were meant to be together, for he offered me a sense of safety (as a Middle Easterner) who had just arrived to the US (and who on that day received death threats in emails) and, I, him being near my office building used my phone to try to get in touch with his American Airlines flight attendant (of all the possible vocations she may have had, she had this one). I am not sure if you believe me, but it is strangely true. It was profound.

  • Jennifer||

    Ronald, before you get too immersed in your anger and justice-seeking over 9/11, you would do well to acquaint yourself with the crimes of the US and its allies in the building of the American empire.

    America has done terrible things overseas, but so what? The Americans who died on 9/11 were not the Americans who have done evil in the third world. You're using the same twisted logic as the frothing bigots who figure that since [some] Muslims were behind the 9/11 attacks, any Muslim in the world is now a fair target in our war games.

  • iih||

    Correction:

    his American Airlines flight attendant wife

  • iih||

    Jennifer:

    America has done terrible things overseas, but so what? The Americans who died on 9/11 were not the Americans who have done evil in the third world. You're using the same twisted logic as the frothing bigots who figure that since [some] Muslims were behind the 9/11 attacks, any Muslim in the world is now a fair target in our war games.

    Right on the mark. Thank you.

  • Bill Pope||

    Jennifer, it's precisely that "so what?" attitude that has earned Americans the resentment of many around the world.

  • Tom||

    Any irony to a staffer from Reason listening to a heavily state-subsidized radio station that plays stuff that free market radio stations won't?

    Any station with more than a few yards' range has a spectrum monopoly grant from the federal government. In for a penny, in for a pound?

  • Bill Pope||

    Imagine, if you will, your own reaction if an Al Qaida representative said "Yes we killed thousands of innocent Americans, but that total is only a drop in the bucket compared to the inncocent Muslims and non-Muslims killed by US actions, not to mention others forced to live miserable lives under despotic US supported regimes- so what?"

  • iih||

    One of the scary direct consequences of 9/11 is unrestricted executive power, which is one of the reasons many think the "terrorists won" (at least in part). I heard parts of an excellent interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Charlie Savage. A must hear if you hadn't heard it already:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14181701

  • ||

    I remember the initial news reports, and how inconsistent they were with what is recited now.

    When the first plane hit the WTC, news reports said it was a small plane. They also said a small plane had landed at the Pentagon. When the second plane hit the WTC, they either stopped pretending it wasn't a serious attack, or suddenly realized they were jumbo jets.

    News reports on that day also said at first that the plane in Pennsylvania had been shot down by the Air Force, before the news about the passengers trying to stop the hijackers came out.

    I also recall hearing that there were several other groups of hijackers planning to hit buildings in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and that two were being pursued on a train in Texas. No one talks about the other targets much any more.

    I remember how stunned everyone was at work, and how shocked we were to learn that the towers had collapsed, even after seeing pictures of the explosions. I remember people speculating that casualties could have reached 20,000 or even 50,000 people.

    Somehow September 12th was harder to take and more somber. Everyone was so quiet, grieving and contemplating what had happened. People even stopped honking at each other in traffic.

  • Babo||

    Despite the fact that one, the FBI says it doesn't have enough evidence against Bin Laden to put him on a wanted poster for 9/11, two the real Bin Laden explicitly denied involvement, three the later videos were said by European Intel to be faked, four, pro-western sources in the Middle east said his denial was genuine, five, the FBI says that Israel's involvement in 9/11 is classified, six Israeli MOSSAD people were observed by multiple witnesses videoing and celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers, seven, these same men later admitted that they were sent over to "document the event" eight, the Koran left on the front seat of the van outside Logan was obviously planted there for political purposes (the hijackers were hard drinking sexually promiscuous hired guns, not Muslim Jihadists) nine, even CIA insiders said a foreign Intel service had to be involved, ten MOSSAD had an apartment right next to the hijackers in Florida....despite all this, most people still think Bin Laden the boogy man and Al Qaeda are out to get us....a Koran in the front seat of the van...how gullible can people be?

  • ||

    The most important consequence of 9/11 is the breaking of the spell cast by religion over the minds of people everywhere.

    The calm, reasoned outspokenness of individuals like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the direct result of the actions taken by the alQaeda true believers in the name of their deity.

    Whenever I think of religion, I now think first of all of the destruction of the Twin Towers.

    Rand had it right: faith and force truly are the destroyers of the modern world.

    For human beings, fatih - the willful rejection of reasoned thought - is the primeval prime evil which allows any action, no matter how heinous, to be cloaked in the shining cloth of sacred mysticism.

  • dbust1||

    Bill Pope

    Are you saying that US + coalition forces have killed 600,000+ people in Iraq? I spent 14 months there in combat as a combat leader, "traveled" across a significant portion of the country during my tour and was in involved in some of the major operations people at home heard about. I can tell you that 600,000+ is a gross exageration on the "Josef Goebbels Scale of Big Lies." The US military is good, but we're not THAT good.

  • dbust1||

    Babo said: "....six Israeli MOSSAD people were observed by multiple witnesses videoing and celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers..."

    Were they wearing "I went to the MOSSAD intel school and all I got was this stinking t-shirt" t-shirts. Come on, I know I shouldn't be wasting my time and server space on a conspiracy nut but "multiple witnesses"? Could you be any more vague. I mean, I was in New York just last year and saw two members of the Japanese Defense Intelligence Office videotaping Wall Street prior to a planned financial take over. Can't you see it? Japanese, video cameras, Wall Street? It's so obvious!!

  • Edward||

    Listening to NPR as you usually do, were you? Beats the hell out of for-profit commerical radio, doesn't it?

  • dbust1||

    I don't listen to NPR. I actually listen to for-profit commercial radio. I know, perish the thought! But, before listening, I put my thinking cap on and make sure the bullshit gauge is working.

  • JBinMO||

    "They hate us for our freedom" so Bush is working hard to get rid of it. Does that make him an appeaser?

  • bruce majors||

    The real story is the complete failure of the FAA as detailed in the movie on Flight 93. Neil Cavuto had a panel of idiots yesterday riffing on some Ron Paul debate comment and concluding that the free market could not handle airport security. ROFL. Reason and other libertarian journalists should be writing books on FAA failure and the market alternative as well as on state bridges killing people and state owned levees breaking

  • worthy||

    I was on CNN on line when the attacks were reported.

    After the second tower was hit, I realized it was no accident.

    Unlike Baily, my immediate anger was for the government incompetents who provoked the attacks and then couldn't or, even more frighteningly, wouldn't, protect the citizens they imperilled. While their precious bony asses were, of course, whisked to safety.

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