The tenth anniversary of 9/11, combined with a letter I was writing to someone in Japan and my impending trip to Washington D.C., got me thinking about the nature of tributes and a bit of the history of human tragedy.
Generally, when one speaks dispassionately about passionate subjects (religion, politics, et al), there is a tendency on the part of some people to react passionately, sometimes to the point of outrage or epithets that do a disservice to the discussion in general and the speaker, specifically. I like to believe that my readers are of a more measured mind, however I lay the caution out anyway.
In my letter to Japan, I expressed my sympathies for the terrible destruction visited upon that nation’s people. Living in Florida, I have had some close history with the devastating effects of nature (thankfully, not to that level of personal tragedy).
This led me to pondering the nature of tragedy and tribute. The nation’s resolute recognition of the horror of 9/11 is significant, both in its depth of empathy and its strength of unity. But surely it isn’t as simple as that. The terrible prospect of a child without parents from a plane crashing into a building is no less terrible simply because that child was made an orphan by natural devastation in New Orleans.
Is it the fact that it was a man-made act of terror? That can’t be entirely the truth either, for there is no day set aside for Oklahoma City or, for that matter, the daily acts of terror perpetrated on citizens of this country in the form of murder, child abuse, domestic violence and other horrible examples of the evil mankind can sink into.
Was it the fact that there was a defined enemy to hate? A culture of people so devoid of any value on human life that they regularly commit acts that consign innocents to pay for the rage that culture feels? Even presuming you can make such a generalization across an entire people, was not the same situation visited upon America by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor? How strongly do we relate to that age of hate and fear? Or is that no longer valid, since the Japanese are our friends now (as are the Germans, and you need only look at the media of the era to see how we felt about the Nazis).
Is it because of the elevated fear and suspicion the acts caused? But why is there no “Missiles of October” day for the barely escaped escalation into thermonuclear war that occurred (right off my shores) back in the Kennedy era?
Look at some of the days that are “tributes”: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day. These were all days bought and paid for in blood. Today we use them for retail sales and picnics. You don’t get the sense of somber reflection or simmering anger like 9/11.
Without impugning the very real feelings of concern and sorrow for those lives lost, I wonder if the continued strength of recognition of that day is simply because it’s so recent. It is humanity’s blessing and curse that our collective outrage tends to dim with our memories over time. Americans two generations removed from World War II have only history books and movies to describe the atrocities of those times. To most of them, Germany and Japan are just cool places to visit and makers of quality automobiles.
Today many of us believe the Arab world is filled with people whose sole purpose in life is to hate the West (and America in particular). It is likely that those of us who lived through these times will never forgive (as many who lived through the previous terror have had trouble doing). Still, it is not inconceivable to think that two generations from now, our grandkids may look at that part of the world differently. On that day, 9/11 may well be remembered like Pearl Harbor Day.
It lessens none of the sorrow felt 70 years ago; none felt 10 years ago. The orphans from war, terror, nature, reckless driving or man’s sad capacity for inhumane acts are ever deserving of our sympathy and support. If a tribute helps focus that support, it’s a welcome aid.
So long as it never becomes a focus for hate and anger. We must allow for the possibility that the fist thrust out in anger today may one day be an open hand for us to shake. In fact, we seem to already celebrate a yearly tribute to that hope of brotherhood…Thanksgiving.