The Washington Times
Today is the anniversary of Sept. 10, 2001, and this day, too, is worth commemorating. It was, to pick a phrase, the day before the first day of the rest of our lives.
I suspect that most of us, especially in Washington and New York, haven’t actually had September 11 out of mind long enough in the intervening year to require a conspicuous summons of will in order to remember. Last November or thereabouts, somebody made the perceptive point that New Yorkers were not then in a state of post-traumatic stress, as some were claiming; they were still in trauma. To pass to post-traumatic stress, we will have to reach the point at which our traumas are over. Who could deny that things have been going well? But who would deny that we have a ways to go?
What will it feel like to be past the trauma? Something like the return of the spirit of Sept. 10. By contrast with September 11, it is much harder to remember what Sept. 10 was like, what we were thinking about, what we thought our problems were. This one is the date that requires a summons of the will to remember.
Maybe Sept. 10 isn’t really worth remembering. Maybe September 11 served, in effect, to discredit Sept. 10 once and for all. Sept. 10 was in this sense the last few minutes of a nice long nap. One of the reasons that the sensibility of that date is so hard to bring to mind a year later is surely the embarrassment of remembering what was foremost on the mind then.
Surely, there was a lot of false consciousness on Sept. 10. The false sense of physical security was one obvious element. Also, a sense that with the end of the Cold War and with the United States on top as the world’s sole superpower, we no longer had a serious enemy any longer, not one that could lash out and really strike us.
Meanwhile, political triviality and frivolity seemed to be becoming more the rule than the exception in Washington and nationwide. As has been said of the academy, the disputes were so bitter because the stakes were so small. And, of course: the economy, stupid. If ever a message really took hold during the 10 years culminating in Sept. 10, 2001, that was it.
But is that all there was? Not by a long shot. Sept. 10 also offered a portrait of a people who had most of the problems of politics licked. The things that have preoccupied nations and their predecessors, political communities in the broadest sense – the existential questions of survival in the face of enemies abroad and revolutionaries within, the question of who rules and how to arrange the peaceful transfer of power, the question of what the government will look like and how its internal power will be divided among constituent parts, the question of what kind of political economy will be in place – all these questions are ones that Americans essentially regarded as settled on Sept. 10, 2001.
That is an extraordinary accomplishment, and we shouldn’t mind reflecting on it every now and again. If we were too complacent on Sept. 10 – and who would deny that we were? – nevertheless a certain measure of complacency was entirely understandable and even, perhaps, justifiable, in the sense that pride is justified when accompanied by true accomplishment.
Now, it is entirely possible that a more appropriate sentiment for Sept. 10 would have been gratitude, for all the blessings we enjoy and for those who set themselves to the task of securing the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. To the extent that the United States was in danger of becoming a nation of ingrates, a correction was necessary.
It has surely come. Yet if Sept. 10 was a time of a false sense of security, September 11, oddly, ushered in a false sense of peril. It was not just a matter of worry about when the next attack would come, though that was very vivid. It was also an existential worry: Could they succeed? Could their attacks bring down the United States? Would the country fall apart?
The answer is no. There are no guarantees about what lies ahead for each of us, but there is a renewed national sense of what the United States is about, how strong the country really is not only in terms of its external military might but also in its possession of a dense social fabric that doesn’t easily tear, and about how we respond to adversity.
I submit that this is the spirit of Sept. 10 reasserting itself – precisely the settledness of our answers to the great questions. The spirit has, of course, been duly modified to take September 11 and subsequent events into account. Complacency and selfishness are out; vigilance and gratitude are in. But this country was in pretty good shape Sept. 10, and don’t you forget it.