Say It With Me

How we’re losing the lessons of the September 11 terrorist attacks through sloppy language.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania, on the Pentagon, and in New York City. The event is also known as “9/11,” “Nineeleven,” and “IX XI,” as it’s most absurdly written at Ground Zero.

This time, let’s say the whole thing and make Orwell proud (in fighting the lazy use of language, anyway): “the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Pennsylvania, on the Pentagon, and in New York City.”

Yes, “nahneleven” is a lot easier to say — in the same way that it’s a lot easier to imagine the fight against terror as a simple matter of good vs. evil, as our leaders portray it, instead of the murky and dangerous struggle it is. Americans know that it’s more complicated, but we prefer the easy explanation. Convenience eliminates stress, right?

Every American knows that the attacks on September 11, 2001, were an unfair lesson for America. But unfairness and inconvenience are painfully-bad excuses for choosing to learn nothing from those attacks.

We risk the loss of many things in life: keys, crowbars, contact lens solution, gel-filled bras — but those things can be found or bought new. Yet our most precious belongings —like loved ones and dignity — aren’t as replaceable.

Some thoughts: every year, Americans consume about 317,000,000,000 gallons of oil, and trucks deliver 48,000,000,000 feet of lumber. Each year, the average citizen creates about 0.73 tons of garbage. Each year, about 16,000 average citizens are murdered. In the United States, 20 percent of adults have gotten a divorce, and video games make up a $10,000,000,000.00 industry.

My point isn’t that America is a nation of animalistic hedonism and indifference (though that may be worth investigating sometime, too). No, this is about convenience.

Deep inside, America cares; I love that we do, and I believe it. Every day, U.S. prayers echo in the atmosphere (if not first deflected by a ghostly missile shield).

And then convenience changes everything. We’re always preoccupied; we have complex itineraries, little time, and fast cars. There is no room for tragedy. Convenience functions as an aid to forgetting. In the name of speed, we sacrifice facts, history, exercise, even language.

Whether we abbreviate tragedy to ease pronunciation or buy overpriced bread at the nearest BP station, one thing we do best is pass over the things to which we should pay the most attention.

There are three hundred million people in the United States, and 10,000-plus babies are born daily. I wonder how many do — or will, someday — give a damn? How many other people say, “I don’t vote because I don’t know enough about the candidates.”

It’s getting harder for me to reprimand them: I don’t always know that much about the candidates, either. Convenience is tough to beat.

From September 2001 forward, Americans have received instruction to maintain the convenient routine to which we’re accustomed — to keep up the heckuva job, to laugh in the perplexed face of evil. The people in charge take care of those nasty bad guys, they say. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it.

But this is a mistake. We refuse to reconsider our appearance to the rest of the world: could changes to our lifestyles of mass consumption make us safer? Instead, we let convenience win over sacrifice. What is this “rest of the world” of which you speak? We allow our leaders to subvert serious discussion about why we were attacked. Sound bites are easier to digest.

If we’re to learn anything from the attacks, it should be to restore an American value for life. All of the last five years’ casualties understand this. But after all this time, does anyone else?

If September 11 were made into a holiday, would people would just gorge and get drunk — like on Memorial Day? You know, when we’re supposed to be remembering our honored dead?

If September 11 became a full-fledged holiday, it should be a sort of Thanksgiving —except instead of thanking God for alcohol, food, football, more food, and dessert, we’d thank God for lives.

I’ll start.

I’m thankful to have my beautiful brothers. I’m thankful for My Love, for everything. I’m thankful for my Ma and Pa. I’m thankful for my grandmother — a guide, a veteran, an education-provider. I’m thankful for my uncle and his vast knowledge. I’m thankful to Hawkes, who rescued me. I love them all, and I risk their loss every day — maybe in something as simple as a car crash, or maybe, as too many have learned, in unimaginable, heartbreaking tragedy.

I’m thankful for flowing blood, for thoughts, humor, conversation, and silence too.

I am ever-thankful for my country, America. I don’t want to live anywhere else.

I’m not thankful for terror — within me or anyone else. I wish that such loss did not exist, especially in the melting and groaning metal, in suffocation, in that toxic dust.

But I wish that we’d gained humility instead of concentrated arrogance. Do we learn from tragedy anymore, or is it just like watching someone get attacked by an animal on America’s Funniest?

I wish we’d slow down instead of abbreviate, but we’re so obsessed with entertainment that we’ll even settle for reruns: for anyone who wanted to see the towers destroyed again and again on September 11, CNN tragi-casted its 5-year-old coverage on the Internet.

Earlier this year, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, mainly to learn how to properly use the word “Orwellian.” I found that Orwell’s book is the stuff of nightmares: gripping, vivid, continuous—tragic beyond its end. And although the book’s reality is a good distance from ours, I realize now that Orwell is most important as one of few authors who will gain relevance as time progresses; that is, if people don’t stop reading altogether.

This month, when you think of September 11, 2001, remember to give thanks. And don’t abbreviate.

As Orwell put it, “Slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Start and say it with me.

Article © 2006 by loper