1. Writing History in a Time of Forgetting: 9/11

In the journalism business we live for significant anniversaries … loads of easy to peg stories accompany something like the fifth anniversary of Katrina. Next September there will be an over abundance of such stories. Next September will mark a decade since the attack on the World Trade Center.
This blog is going to be a countdown to that anniversary. It will ask questions sometimes, declare opinions at others, debate with those who find their way to it and post responses to my comments. There will be fragments of book ideas and an irregular column called “The Corrections” in which I will act as the editor too many opinion columnists do not have.
The framework for everything you see here is this question:
Did 9/11 change America? or had American society already changed, only Americans just did not know it?
The intent is to write History in a Time of Forgetting.
To begin:
Do you remember ten years ago this month? Oct. 2000. It was a hot election season, remember? Were you a Democrat? what do you remember? Do you remember watching Al Gore in the debates and feeling like a parent watching your child at a school event, willing him to do well. Do you recall suspending your own critical judgment, like a parent watching a child, and thinking he did well, even when some part of you knows he didn’t?
When you read the debate reports in the press the next day or listened to the instant pundits on NPR and CNN did violence flash through your brain. Al Gore was prissy, Al Gore was too smart, Al Gore was everything the American people don’t like – as if TV folks actually know anything about what ordinary Americans like, think or how they live. Did you feel like hanging Maureen Dowd upside down by her ankles and then dropping her into a pile of excrement?
Did you watch the polls in disbelief as you realized how many of your fellow citizens actually thought George W. Bush would make a good president?
If you are a Republican – I hope there are one or two who find their way to these words – do you remember your feelings? Did you look at Gore and think what a fat pompous ass he is? Or were you more Christian in your assessment? Were you Christian in making your judgments about George W. Bush? Did you see in him a man of faith? Did you willingly suspend your disbelief and see a man of the Texas soil, a person just like you, rather than the son of Connecticut Yankees who was comped into Yale and Harvard Business School, who spent his summer’s in a private compound on the coast of Maine?
What do you remember?
Here’s what I have recalled.
I was just back from Bosnia. An anniversary story. Five years had passed since the civil war there had ended. I covered the end game of that conflict and was returning with my tape recorder to see how well the Dayton Accords had worked.
To me Bosnia had been a paradigm of how the United States, when it concentrated its political will towards action, could be a force for good. During my trip ten years ago this month I had stayed on a U.S. military base in the eastern part of the country. It was my first overnight with the Army, during the war I had stayed with a British unit in central Bosnia but this was altogether different.
I imagine it was just like being with the Roman Army when it was working its way through Gaul. Outside the base was chaos, inside was civilization. Camp Eagle was a bit of America transferred to the Balkan mountains. Six kinds of American cuisine in the mess hall, a gym, satellite TV relaying the soldiers’ favourite shows.
Most of the officers were reservists, men my age, seconded from their small businesses and schoolrooms to oversee the logistical part of the operation. We had plenty in common. There was no lack of conversation.
I went on patrol in Zvornik, one of the nastiest towns in the country, with the soldiers. Ethnic cleansing had been murderous here. On a hillside overlooking the Drina River was a modern hotel where Bosnian Muslim women had been taken to be literally raped to death by Serbs. The place only closed down because so many corpses were thrown into the river that the spillway in a dam just by Zvornik had become dangerously clogged.
I watched a young artillery officer develop on the job peace-keeping experience. It was not what he signed on for when he decided to make a career in the army … but it was the assignment he was given, and I thought he did it incredibly well.
Pride in the power of the U.S. to do good. That was what I came away with from my trip to Bosnia. Even though I could see that Dayton had been a short term solution that did not solve the deeper problems raised by the civil war, despite observing at first hand the grotesque corruption that a semi-permanent presence of international peace-keepers and aid agencies with big budgets brought into conflict resolution zones, I thought the U.S. had done supreme good here. I had visited the morgue of Tuzla – smelled it before I saw it – where the unidentified remains of several thousand victims of the Srebrenica were housed.
I watched a young Anglo-American couple, forensic scientists as they worked their way through brown paper bags containing bits of bone, some still with bubbles of flesh on them, laying them out on autopsy tables, cataloging them so that some day, the remains might be claimed and given a proper burial. The couple’s salaries came through a fund organized by Senator Bob Dole, yes, at its bi-partisan best, America’s big heart reaches deep into parts of the world that know pain and suffering.
Ten years ago – do you remember what you were doing – what you felt about being American? Did you think about it at all?

The Connection: Gore\'s Big MomentBosnia: Inside Out

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One Response to “1. Writing History in a Time of Forgetting: 9/11”

  1. Dave L. says:

    I cam across one of your articles on the Internet and really enjoy your blog. I live in San Diego, Cali., USA but I vacationed in London two years ago to watch the NFL game at Wembley; stayed in Croydon actually and Bungay, U.K. which you’ve probably never heard of.

    Have you written anything on the topic of the U.S. becoming more like the U.K. with the sharp rise of manufacturing jobs?

    Cheers and Best Regards

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