A couple of days after September 11th, 2001, we had our cable TV and cable modem installed. It was a blessing, because we could finally get on the internet and look at some real news from the European papers. In fact, that’s what started me blogging, because I would forward articles I found online to my less well hooked up friends and relatives.
The cable guy who arrived to hook us up had lost his sister-in-law who had been working in the Twin Towers on that day. Although both sad and angry at the same time, he was also calm and reflective and seemed eager to talk about the tragedy. I was struck, in this conversation, how completely he had picked up the rhetoric of the president and the mainstream press. He said that this was a great tragedy “for America” and that the Twin Towers had been attacked because they were a symbol of “America and everything this country stands for.”
I didn’t want to argue with him, considering what he must have been going through, but I was already alarmed at the American flags waiving in every window and attached to every lapel pin. I felt that this flag waiving patriotism was short-circuiting our ability, as a nation, to think rationally about how to respond to the events of September 11th. More than that, I also never had thought of the Twin Towers as a symbol of America. If anything they were a symbol of world trade (hence the name), and therefore of international capitalism. But I didn’t say any of this to the cable guy. Instead, I simply remarked that many of the people who died on that day were not Americans, but workers from all over the world.
He said (and I paraphrase from distant memory), “Yes, but those towers were a symbol of American freedom. This is an American tragedy.”
I thought about this conversation when, linking from who knows where, I came across this CBS news article from 2002, entitled “Not Just An American Tragedy“:
From Britain, 67 were killed. Two Israelis died. Fifteen Australians. At least one Nigerian, possibly a half dozen more. Twenty-four Japanese. Seventeen Mexicans.
All told, nearly 500 foreigners from 91 countries lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attack.
And I remember, how, in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were pictures on the internet of people all around the world mourning that terrible tragedy. Never, in the history of our country, has America had so much good will from the rest of the world.
Even the Afghan war did little to undermine that good will.
But the war in Iraq has managed to not only recapture the world’s traditional fear and suspicion of the United States, but to take that distrust to new levels.
That is an American tragedy.