This time of year, what’s at the forefront of my memory is my wife’s birthday, and my kids’ birthdays, which are mostly around this time of year. The thing that most people bring up around now is the ugly memory of 11 September 2001. I shy away from it, because while it was definitely a tragedy with significant loss of life, it was also an excuse, a justification, a starting point for excesses of evil on this country’s part. Also, a trigger for kitsch.
These days it’s perhaps more often utilized in memory of a great tragedy that happened 22 years ago this Monday, back at the dawn of the 21st century, the attacks on 9/11, when our own infrastructure was turned against us in an act of modern horror. So around this time of year, when we hear Never Forget, it’s most likely the attacks of that day being referenced. It’s on posters, and t-shirts, to help you remember. There’s a lawn decoration, I see, in the shape of the Twin Towers, which you can buy at Walmart, in case you think your neighbors might be in danger of forgetting to Never Forget. You can put it on your lawn, and maybe you’ll all remember who your enemies outside your borders are, and if you actually sometimes like to talk as if New York City is an unlivable hellscape full of your enemies inside your borders, maybe you’ll be so busy Never Forget-ing that you’ll forget to remember that you do that, at least until it is time for Halloween lawn decorations.
Oh god. $79.95. And the ugly upper-middle class house is a perfect background for it.
I’ll Never Forget the way the liars who had the steering wheel on that day bragged that they would create their own reality, and then proved it. I’ll Never Forget how proud they were of making us a country that tortures. I’ll Never Forget how lie led to lie led to lie, but never to consequences.
And I’ll Never Forget how the liars who came after—even less scrupulous, even more flagrant—noticed there would be no crime that an authoritarian-facing Presidential power couldn’t survive, no outrage that would not be normalized, no meat too raw for voters who craved bigotry, and pressed that advantage far past our breaking point, so that today we have an openly criminal party speaking and acting against any elections they do not win, and arguing in public and even in court that it isn’t illegal if a president does it, provided the president is an authoritarian.
I think we’d do well to Never Forget that the failure to prevent those attacks did not represent insufficiently aggressive national security, or insufficiently guarded borders, or insufficient domestic policing, or insufficient cruelty in our foreign policy, but rather insufficient attention paid to available information—an intelligence failure, in other words: a failure of awareness, of imagination, of competence. So it strikes me that those who still today insist on ignoring available information risk similarly catastrophic failures of our national intelligence.
Those are the things I already remember when the pretense of martyrdom rolls around every year.