Commemoration and the Failure of Leadership
I remember very clearly the morning I first heard of the attack on the World Trade Centre. It was a beautiful morning. One very much like this morning — pleasingly tranquil, sunny, placid. I was sitting a friend’s cottage while he was away lecturing in his home country, Germany, and I was enjoying it very much.
I had turned on my laptop to summon up the news of the day and then put on the coffee. The emails I started receiving were, initially, confusing to me. A correspondent from New York City finally explained after I asked for clarification. Two jet planes had been hijacked and had been flown into the Twin Towers. I was stunned. My jaw dropped.
After I regained some composure, the first thought that occurred to me, and which I communicated back to my correspondent in New York City, was: “Damn it! They’ve handed it to the neo-cons on a silver platter!”
I was referring to the now famous and controversial term “new Pearl Harbor” that the neo-conservatives in The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), then housed at the American Enterprise Institute, had stated would be the desirable prerequisite (or pretext) for launching their bid for the re-militarisation of America and for global Empire, in their pernicious planning document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (still available at the PNAC website).
Now, I knew, there was going to be trouble.
At the time, I only had information that two buildings had been struck. I had no television (I have never owned one and the cottage didn’t have one either) so I relied on the news feeds through the internet to report on casualties. These reports were also confused and confusing. The full tragedy of it only hit me when I saw a startling photograph of a young man falling from the top of one of the towers. He had been apparently a waiter in the restaurant. Rather than wait to be burned by the fire, he had chosen to jump to his death. My heart sank at that sight.
Only much later did the press report on the responses amongst those in the Bush Administration, confirming my first response to my friend in New York. Whatever heartfelt sorrow for the victims of the attack Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Rove and others may have felt (which appears to have been almost none), it did not take them long (as their almost gleeful internal memos record) to cynically scheme on how to exploit the “opportunity” (their own words) that the attack now presented to implement the PNAC agenda. It was a gift to the neo-cons. At last, they had their “new Pearl Harbor.”
On this day, ten years later, it is hard for me to summon up the pathos to participate in the official commemorative events around 9/11. I feel the same way about this as I now do about Remembrance Day in Canada. I walked out of the last one I attended in disgust, never to return for another, for these fully dishonest and misnamed “commemorative occasions” now only serve as propaganda platforms for war-makers. “Lest we forget…” But we have already forgotten. These commemorative occasions should also serve to remind us of the manifold failures of human intelligence, reason, and political leadership that brought about these tragedies, so that they do not recur.
All that, however, has been swept under the rug — like the diseased pudenda dangling limply beneath the fig-leaf of self-righteous moral rectitude.
Maybe what is needed is alternative commemorations that do not downplay or deliberately eclipse the moral failures, or the failures of intelligence and reason, that led to them. There’s no reason why “officialdom” and the State should have a monopoly on commemorations (or even the control of “holidays” for that matter) which only provides the State with a platform to justify itself and to gloss over its own role and the failures of leadership that have brought about so many of our contemporary tragedies.
And which are all-too-likely to do so again.