Honor the Fallen By Facing History

In the wake of 9-11 very few Americans shuddered at the idea of trying to explain why terrorists flew planes into buildings. It was not enough to say simply that they ‘hated us’. We wanted to know why. In the months that followed the mainstream media and commentators of all stripes looked into the immediate and remote past to try to understand why such a horrific event occurred. There were few, if any outcries that this somehow disrespected the memories of the victims. In fact, many considered it a fitting tribute as well as a necessity – even as a matter of national security. That was certainly the case for me as I both mourned the loss of my cousin, who was killed in the South Tower, and struggled to understand the relevant history.

We can do the same for the nine men and women whose lives were cut short last week in such a brutal and senseless fashion. It’s not enough to say that Dylan Roof hated just as it was not enough in the case of the 9-11 terrorists. Roof hated for a certain reason and he told us in explicit language. His hate was built, in large part, around a certain understanding of the past and wrapped in the iconography of the Confederacy. As a nation we have a responsibility to come to terms with all of this.

We honor the victims by grappling with these very thorny issues and asking the tough questions that all too often hide behind platitudes and a self-serving politics. Let’s keep going.

7 comments… add one
  • Agree……..Thank You………It’s time.

  • Count me in.

  • Actually, I remember the aftermath of 9/11 quite differently. There was a LOT of shouting about how considering the possible root causes/motivations of Islamist terror was “blaming America” and such. I remember this, because when I would suggest that we consider what is now known as “blowback” (short version: response to US foreign policy) as one potential motivation, I was told exactly that. Loudly & repeatedly. So was anyone who dared go there in a public space. To wonder whether we had helped create the environment in which terrorists thrived was essentially deemed unpatriotic for several years. Only after the disaster of Iraq!, The Sequel had become apparent – discrediting Bush & Co. & the neoconservative worldview – did this change.

    I agree with the thrust of your argument, but I think you’re glossing over the ugliness of the public mood following 9/11. There were lots of us – possibly a majority – who were in no mood for informed discussion. They wanted blood, and didn’t want to deal with any sort of complicated narrative that might’ve suggested that we might need to change *anything* about how we interact with the world. I remember the talk at the office just after the attacks – talk about turning the ME into a plate of glass. Later, I remember coworkers in their cubicles, giggling over videos of strafing runs from Iraq…

    I’m glad you reacted differently, Kevin.

    • I remember a lot of that as well. The point I want to make is that the discussion took place even given the scale of that horrific crime.

      • Fair enough, it’s really a matter of emphasis, I guess. Yes, the dicussion took place but it there was a powerful attempt to shut it down that, in my view, seriously constricted the conversation (to oversimplify a bit: how much war shall we have?). People absolutely did suggest that to discuss why people became radicalized and commit terrorist acts, rather than accept “they hate us for our freedoms,” was to dishonor the victims and the nation, and this charge had some success. If you weren’t thumping your chest and demanding war, you were cast as a traitor or at least something vaguely traitor-like (which was darkly amusing when it came from the same folks who like to wave the confederate battle flag).

    • I remember this too. It’s not really surprising after an attack, I know I’ve come across similar sentiments following Fort Sumter and Pearl Harbor. War brings up a lot of very negative emotions that are understandable but during peacetime might be considered shocking. I know I myself wasn’t in a pleasant mood on 9/11 and afterwards, to put it mildly.

  • I have to admit post 9/11 my thoughts were in a mess. I was in the Pentagon that day in the Army G4 offices and lost 3 friends on the Army G1 staff.

    Post 9/11 I was fangs out. I was all for our SOF in Afghanistan and as I work for the Army as I was able to make a small contribution to the fight.

    I then worked on the plans as we shifted towards Iraq. (NOTE: We ALL wondered where the required follow on forces were in the troop list but that is another story).

    It was not until about 2005-2006 that I could start to take a more mature look.

    My peers and I were seeing too many intelligence reports on specific grops and units to see a monolithic “They” of Islam.

    And while many of the groups we are fighting are Islamic, they are at best allies not part of a single big group.

    So I go with the Southern Poverty Law Center on this; its not one group. Its many who are fellow travelers on the road to racism.


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