My younger son just called to ask me if I know of any 9/11 commemorations in the area today. He was dismayed that there were none on his college campus. I looked on-line and couldn’t find any listed. The only suggestions I found for Patriot Day (not the same as Patriots’ Day in MA, commemorating the Battles of Concord and Lexington and observed through the running of the Boston Marathon) were to lower flags to half-staff and have a moment of silence at 8:46 AM.
This futile search reminded me of another column I had written in the aftermath of 9/11. It was published in the Burlington County Times, on March 18, 2002. Although the examples cited are dated, the sentiments remain the same.
It’s now just over six months since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Shortly after the horrific events of that day, President Bush called for a return to normalcy. Of course, for the families and friends of the victims, life will never again be normal, but for the rest of us, it’s business as usual. Unfortunately.
The Republicans, led by Vice President Cheney, have blamed former President Clinton for the attacks, saying that he did not do enough to curb terrorism. The Democrats, of course, blame the Republicans for not having acted on tips that such an attack was imminent. It’s politics as usual.
The residents of New York City are at odds with each other about how to use the former World Trade Center site. Should the Towers be rebuilt? Should there be a complex of smaller buildings? Should the site be developed into a park dedicated to the victims? It’s urban development as usual.
The survivors of the attacks are at loggerheads about the compensation that has been offered to them. Should they accept the government’s offer and forfeit the right to sue? Or should they take their chances on the court system? It’s the litigious society as usual.
Kenneth Feinberg, who is in charge of the reimbursement fund authorized by Congress, is in the unenviable position of having to decide who gets what. Should Social Security survivor benefits be deducted? Should life insurance policies? Is a 26-year-old single man or woman who earned a six-figure salary worth less than a 26-year-old married man or woman with two children who earned a six-figure salary? What about the 26-year-old single mother who barely made minimum wage? Or the 62-year-old grandfather approaching retirement? How can a value be put onto a human life? It’s moral dilemmas as usual.
And then there are those who believe that no amount of money could ever compensate the families for the loss of loved ones, so we shouldn’t cheapen their memories with money. And there are those who agree that no money should be given, but for a different reason: why compensate the families of people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? It’s resentment as usual.
Some families who lost loved ones at different places are angry. Those whose relatives were killed at the Pentagon or on Flight 93 feel that those stories are being lost in all the attention being paid to the World Trade Center victims. Those whose relatives were on the airplanes that hit the Towers and the Pentagon feel that the media, by focusing on the heroics of those on Flight 93, are by implication calling the others cowards for not resisting. Those whose family members were lost in the Pentagon feel that their memories are being slighted because they were military personnel not civilians. It’s publicity as usual.
The same airline passengers who refused to fly after September 11, driving some airlines to the brink of bankruptcy and others over the edge, are now complaining that they have to arrive at the airports early to go through security checks. They’re complaining when flights are delayed or airports closed because of terrorist threats or security breaches. They’re even complaining about the cutback in food service. It’s “don’t inconvenience me” as usual.
Right after September 11, Americans opened their wallets – and their pantries and garages – as never before. Dog kibble, bottled water, blankets, latex gloves, and other materials were donated in such quantities that warehouses are still filled with thousands of items that weren’t needed. And we gave an estimated $1.2 billion to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations large and small, local and national. But the distribution of the monies has been mired in controversy – how should it be spent? Who should coordinate the efforts? Should the donations be used only to help victims of September 11, or can they be used to help victims of other disasters, both natural and war-related, as well? It’s money-grubbing as usual.
And there are the problems that are now facing non-profit organizations, who have seen their donations shrink after the largesse of September 11. Is it really charity if you give to an emergency fund and then do not contribute to a different fund at your usual level? Yes, those who had never given before and did make contributions after September 11 were generous. But those who deducted their September 11 donations from the amounts they generally give to other groups were not. It’s selfishness as usual.
It’s true that we cannot live at the same level of alertness, stress, and sadness as we did right after September 11. But, somehow, I don’t think this is what President Bush meant by “normalcy.”