This marks the first year that I’m not in the US on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. While I didn’t expect there to be any sort of reminder other than the interactions I made with the online world, I was surprised to hear tributes to victims and observance of September 11, 2001 on German radio stations.
Apparently, even though most of the world, contrary to US belief, hold reservations about the US being the best country on Earth, they still are very tied to the 9/11 Attacks and their history is tied to the US on this day. For example, there were also German citizens in the Towers and nearby in NYC on that day. Furthermore, the resulting “War on Terror” drew in various countries all over the world, and let’s not forget the growing threat of terrorist attacks since then.
“A thick bundle of black smoke is hanging outside the tower. It looks too heavy to hang there. An aeroplane comes in slow motion from the corner of the screen…” “The aeroplane comes again. The television shows it again and again.”- Brick Lane by Monica Ali, pg. 366
Since starting my PhD project dealing with intermedial references in contemporary literature to events like the 9/11 attacks, I’ve been forced to address the large amount of discussion in German intellectual circles about the event and its mark as a “turning point” in history. Arguably, having a massive symbol of western capitalism and ideology attacked and destroyed before the eyes of the world– camera crews were on hand to capture the second crash into the Towers–shifted “what is possible” and “how do communities react?” for the world as well as for the US.
Still, it’s a strange feeling to be a US native in a German city, hearing about this event both as a mature adult and as a representative of my country- for, despite how good my German is and how integrated I am into the social, legal, and academic structures here, I am still “the American.” I like to think I have a special claim to memory and grief in regards to this event, because I was one of the millions of school children sent home early that day to find safety with family- since many US Americans feared even more attacks scattered all over the US. I was someone whose normal routine was interrupted by a call by someone who happened to catch the news and gave instructions to turn on the television news. I was someone who sat at home with my family, television news running in the background, trying to get in contact with people we knew who were in NYC and the Pentagon, wanting to make sure that at least the people we knew personally had escaped death and, if lucky, weren’t in the area altogether. I was someone who couldn’t understand why one group of people could hate an ideology so much, that they would be willing to take the lives of anyone who lived in it.
Now that I’m older, more critical of the world and the way public trauma works, I realize that there’s a lot of “black and white” understanding of these events and the subsequent reactions of the US and countries around the world. It’s actually thousands of shades and tints of gray that no one person could summarize in his/her lifetime. Still, 15 years later, I think we can all agree that it was not the end of the world. Time moves on. Wounds heal. Movies are made, books written, and thousands of interviews and conversations add more layers to understanding the attacks (or rather, continuing to try to understand).
Fifty-five years from now (I’m an optimist- I believe there will be a 2071, I imagine my grandchildren asking me where I was during the 9/11 attacks. What will we tell them? How will they learn about it in school? What is the timeline of events that will appear in the history books, before and after September 11, 2001? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I’ve learned what it means to despise an ideology- Islamist fundamentalism is a pretty nasty piece of business- and I hope I’ll never to have find out whether I’d be willing to kill someone of that ideology. I suppose an individual can be justified differently than 3000+ individuals. But that’s not a thought I want to end this post with.
Rather, I felt the need to publicly reflect on an event that is such a key part of recent public memory. I know I won’t be the only one who feels that way today, though most people don’t feel the need to share their reflection with the world.
I am grateful to live in a world so interconnected that a US American can be inspired to reflect in Germany, and that US Americans are wise enough to recognize their role in the world and work on being a productive member of it, even if we often disagree on the methods they take to fulfill that purpose. This interconnectedness- another word could be globalism in the cultural, political and economic sense- is, as we’ve seen, a double-edged sword that we’re still collectively learning to wield. Good luck to us all.