Lunchtime. The time when I read the news while eating my salad and think. Today’s news seems to be focused on remembering what happened on 9/11/2001… and it got me thinking about the importance of punctuation. This is because the articles I’m seeing are taking two forms: “Why Remember 9/11.” and “Why Remember 9/11?”.
The first category of articles (those using the period) talk about the importance of remembering this day: remembering all the innocent lives that were lost. But we lost a lost more than the direct victims on 9/11. We got involved in a war, and an order of magnitude more lives of our soldiers were lost. Lives of non-American innocents were lost, both intentionally through attacks by terrorists, and unintentionally as collateral damage. The loss of any of these lives is tragic (except the loss of the lives of the perpetrators of the attacks, and even then the loss of that person from doing the path of good is tragic).
More than lives were lost. 9/11 became the reason that DHS and TSA was created, and we’re all aware of the loss of privacy and the loss of the ease of flying that created. 9/11 increased surveillance and suspicion — both of the government regarding the people, and the people regarding the government. We might mark 9/11 as when we lost the ability to trust. 9/11 increased government spending, and so 9/11 resulted in the loss of a potentially manageable deficit. 9/11 also eroded religious tolerance in the US — at least I believe that an increasing percentage of the populace is less tolerant of non-Judeo-Christian faiths.
So on 9/11, we remember all that we lost.
The second category of articles (those using the question mark) ask why we should remember 9/11? If you look at history, we don’t make bid deals of major events with victims. Do you observe the day the Andrea Doria sunk? The day Fort Sumter was fired upon? Pearl Harbor day? The sinking of the Lusitania? Probably not. We celebrate our victories and remember on those days. V-E day. V-J day. Veterans day. And if we think about victories with respect to 9/11, what is there? We didn’t “win” in Iraq — it is unclear what we actually did there other than get rid of Saddam, and it is also unclear the relevance to 9/11. As for the battle against Al Quaida, we haven’t won yet. The animal is injured, its head is cut off, but it still can still do damage. So there’s not much to celebrate yet.
One claim is that we observe 9/11 to remember the innocent lives lost — the lives of the people who were just going about their everyday lives when this happened. But we don’t have equivalent observances of the day the atom bomb was dropped, or the day we firebombed Dresden. Innocent life that is lost is a tragedy no matter what. It is right to remember innocent lives lost as collateral damage of war. It is wrong to remember them only because they were “our” lives on “our” soil. Perhaps 9/11 will evolve into a remembrance of innocent lives lost during war. That would be a good thing to remember.
When looking at 9/11 as a question, we should also ask ourselves why it occurred in the first place? My understanding is that one reason was the great freedom to practice a variety of faiths in our society, and our tolerance of others who are different. This was offensive to the terrorist side who want a one-religion religious society. Have we responded to 9/11 with an “in your face”, proving our society is super accepting of other faiths and other lifestyles? I think you know the answer as well as I. We still have religious conservatives who want power, who want to see an effective natural imposition of god and religious-based rules? As long as these voices have the impact they currently do in society… as long as we want to suppress women, gays, and people of different faiths… there’s not much positive to remember.
What are we left with? I think it is up to you to decide what the correct punctuation should be. If you are in the period camp, then make sure you understand what we are remembering on this day. There remembrance is for more than just the single event itself. If you are questioning the remembrance, then ask yourself what is appropriate to honor and remember about the “War on Terror” that 9/11 exemplified, and when we should remember. What is important — whatever the day — is the act of remembering. If we forget what we lost — and all we have lost — then we are doomed to forget all the lessons learned from this horrible event.