This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever tried to write. It’s one of those where one sitting is not enough to ideally formulate every idea I’m trying to express. The trouble is, if I don’t post this now, I never will. I know I’ll want to return to it at some point, so that what I’m trying to say becomes more clear, appropriate and powerful. But for the moment, it’s my attempt to pay tribute to the victims of the September 11th attacks, both living and dead.
I am especially grateful to the men and women everywhere who make it their jobs to come to the aid of others, regardless of the risks to themselves.
It’s a weird, serendipitous coincidence that I started watching American Sniper with my family last night, and then finished it today. As the closing credits started appearing on-screen and I saw the original footage of the funeral procession of a man who died at the hands of another veteran, I needed a bit of time to think about how I feel about US war heroes (the term should not be thrown about lightly) and how I feel about the Iraq War.
I’m not the patriotic type; I’ve mentioned that before. Removed from all social media (except blogging), I also didn’t see what inevitably many US Americans posted today. However, whether I want to admit it or not, being in school that morning in September in 2001 affected how I situate myself in relation to the world. Of course I see myself as US American. However, on days like today and during my stay abroad in Germany, I’ve had to ask myself several times what that means and the responsibility that comes with it.
While in Germany, I took a course called “Representations of War in British Film and Lit.” As a part of the course we read Wish You Were Here, which was about the brother of a British soldier who serves in Iraq and Afghanistan and dies on active duty. It was the first time I had talked about the Iraq War in an academic setting, and of course it was amidst German anglophiles.
In case you didn’t know, the German population as a whole was not really a fan of the U.S. going to war with Iraq. Thus, because I also had been selected to provide the Referat, or presentation, of the context of the novel, I found myself in the position of justifying the war. I’m not completely proud to say that I recognized the aggressive military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as being the result of pain and confoundment. At least, those are the emotions I still feel today, and I think this may confuse the issues surrounding 9/11 for many US Americans.
However, while in Germany I’ve been forced to think about the other factors in Bush declaring war in the name of the USA. I was challenged by another exposure to the representation of the 9/11 attacks in the form of the 11’09″01 film series. I saw Sean Penn’s contribution and it showed me for the first time the ways in which the 9/11 attacks have been processed by intellectuals and maybe even critics of the US. One could argue that the attacks brought out the best and the worst of the US.
Looked at with the distance of the Germans and the British, as well as most intellectuals in the US, the terrorist attacks can be examined as a disillusionment for the US. Sean Penn’s images of the hard-working American who has lost his wife and exists in the shadow of the Twin Towers forced me to consider how the fall of the Towers could be a positive thing. While writing that, I don’t think positive is the right word, but the image of the flowers blooming and the husband being forced to live in the present, not in a past where his wife is still alive, makes me think there is some value in the the US being shocked into having to try to understand its country and how it is received by the rest of the world.
This is something that I’ve never had a problem understanding, since I’ve been putting my country in relation to another one for almost all my life. As anyone with exposure to other ways of living can tell you, having two things to compare allows one to look more critically at each thing. However, while I’m not proud of the US entering into war with another country, I can take the time to understand the situation more clearly, just like while I feel the pain of seeing what one person can do to another (or many), as in the countless examples during the Nazi Regime of the 3rd Reich in Germany, I can also take the time to understand the situation more clearly in relation to the events that occurred before it. Wanting to learn and understand (if understanding is even possible) does not excuse the behavior on either side, but it also does not exclude me from wanting to be affiliated with either country.
So, while I know it’s easy to try to forget the things that cause us pain, I’m glad to be reminded of the 9/11 attacks to remember the people who lost their lives as well as to take a bit of time to think about the world since 9/11 and how it has changed. American Sniper reminded me how people will honor the sacrifice of others (whether it was asked for or not) and how some people believe in the war and some don’t. The significance of today’s date, the moments of silence and my own personal memories reminded me, yet again, of how much pain this earth has seen, regardless of which nation the people belonged to.
There’s so much more that can be said in relation to this, and I fear that I could not address all of them, leaving this post off limp and weak. But ultimately it’s up to everyone to decide for him/herself how to relate to the events. Thank you for reading!