So it’s September 11, and I’m already miffed at CNN for rebroadcasting all of their footage from 9/11 in real time. To put it mildly, I just don’t think that was necessary. Then I get to work and numerous colleagues are decked out–I mean, DECKED OUT–in red, white and blue. Long faces and sighs and sad looks abound. THEN I check my school email and learn that there will be a 10 minute 9/11 memorial presentation ON THE INTERCOM during 1st period, right before the mandatory* Pledge of Allegiance. Deep sigh.
Please don’t get me wrong–9/11 was horrific, awful, hideous. You know; I don’t need to tell you. But I question some 9/11 anniversary behavior in the same way I questioned some immediate post-9/11 behavior. The flag pins and bumper stickers and “remember” t-shirts…it all seemed false, a convenient way to make a buck. I know there were sincere citizens of this country who didn’t know what else to do, so they put out their flags and bought bumper stickers and wore those t-shirts, but some of it just made me feel bullied and guilty, like if I didn’t stick a flag on my car’s rear window I was un-American.
Which brings me back to the anniversary. I made the mistake of commenting on the parade of red, white and blue, and I wondered aloud something along the lines of, “Why just today? If we are to truly honor people like Mark Bingham and the NYC firefighters and the countless innocents who died, shouldn’t we remember all the time?” Two things happened. One, my friend L. patiently explained to me that “they” are afraid we’ve become too complacent** and we need to be reminded–hence the CNN rebroadcasts and national remembrance movements. Two, my friend E., who was, in fact, wearing red, white and blue, asked me with a sad look on her face, “Don’t you like being an American?”
There, see? Treason by government standards.
But here’s the thing: I agree with L.–we as Americans do tend to be complacent. We think bad shit isn’t supposed to happen here. Our country was outraged on 9/11, and rightfully so, but what about what happens in other countries every day? Hell, what about what happens in this country every day? Homelessness, hunger, child abduction, murder, not to mention hurricanes, tornadoes, rock slides, earthquakes, floods. We are complacent, but mostly what that means to me is that we are not proactive enough on our own soil; we allow children to be hungry within the same city limits where buildings are razed so newer, nicer buildings can be constructed, where churches spend more money on their marble facades than they do on community outreach, and where the five bucks I spend at my local Starbucks on a muffin and a latte would feed a 1st grader a week’s worth of school lunch.
Don’t I like being an American? Well, it depends. If that means being a flag-carrying citizen and supporting the President and believing for one second that the War in Iraq has much at all to do with 9/11, then no, I don’t. What I do like is knowing that for the most part I live a safe existence. Unlike some people on the planet, I do not have to worry about stepping on a land mine on my way to work every day, or starving to death, or being shot because I’m a woman, or a Christian, or a liberal, or an educator. I have shoes and clothes and a family and enough money to pay my bills. I have an excellent education and a stable job. The medical care I receive on a regular basis assures me that my child has a good shot at entering the world strong and healthy. These are all things most Americans feel they are entitled to–things they deserve. If this is what it means to be an American, then yes, I like being one. But all Americans do not have all of these basic “rights.” What of that? And why doesn’t all of this come with simply being human?
So, uh, what does all this have to do with 9/11***? Well, it bugs me when people pour energy into “remembering” something once in a while, when every day we are surrounded by people and issues that could really use that energy. It bugs me when a day meant to honor our fellow citizens turns into a day of fist-wielding and fear-mongering, all wrought with talk of revenge and triumph. It bugs me when pride is confused with prowess. It bugs me when my fellow Americans can say somebody across the ocean needs to be knocked down but cannot acknowledge that somebody across the street needs to be lifted up. Does that make me guilty of “treason?” Eh, who knows? If so I’m in good company.
*A law was passed in my state last year that in public schools, someone must recite the Pledge aloud so that students can have the opportunity to say it if they please. I interpret that to mean that if you don’t please, you’re within your rights to keep your seat and refrain from pledging. However, in MY school (and probably in countless others), if my principal walks by a classroom and students are not saying the Pledge, she insists that they all stand and recite. I have a MAJOR problem with this. I think it’s a right, not a requirement. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.
**Actually, I think “they” are afraid we’ve become too unafraid to buy into “their” plans, so reminding us of the horrors of 9/11 via all-day footage is a way to rekindle our fear.
***One final word on 9/11: I wasn’t there like some of my Internet friends. You know who you are, and you know about that day in a way I never will. While I’d never directly ask you to talk about it, I do wonder if my anniversary crankiness is colored by the fact that I was watching from a distance. If I need to be told a thing or do, please don’t hesitate.