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George Bush and Barack Obama at 9/11 ceremonies (pool photo NYTimes)

Paul Krugman comments today on the perplexing subdued nature of the commemorations of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  He thinks that the shame of the anaphylactic shock that followed the event has finally caught up to us:

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

While I agree with Paul that the aftermath that followed was disgraceful and shameful, I don’t agree that the memory has been irrevocably poisoned.  For me, the memorial service at Ground Zero is for the families of the people who lost their lives that day.  It’s could also be a place for grandstanding and politicians or other bad actors who use the event to push a political agenda are, in my humbler opinion, violating the spirit of the place.  But I don’t think the memory of 9/11 is poisoned.  My aunt who has visited Shanksville, PA several times tells me how powerful the place is.  It’s really not more than a scar on the landscape.  I think the thing that awes her is the idea that a group of desperate passengers were not going to go down without a fight.  Knowing that their chances of survival were slim, they armed themselves with pots of hot coffee and service carts and took the bastards on.  The plane disintegrated on impact and hit the ground in rural Somerset county PA with such force that some of the pieces buried themselves.  It makes us wonder if we would have that much courage.

The other day, I listened to an interview with a firefighter who survived the collapse of the North tower along with the rest of his company and a woman who he couldn’t bring himself to abandon on the way out of the building.  What I found so appealing about Jay Jonas’ account was that he didn’t attribute his survival to God.  He knew that physics and gravity had a lot more to do with it.  And timing.  If he hadn’t stopped to help Josephine Harris instead of abandoning her to her fate, he would have been further down the stairwell when the building fell and that would have killed him and his company.  It was cosmic chance that delayed their flight out of the building that put them in the “sweet spot” pocket on the fourth floor of the stairwell.  When it comes right down to it, you might as well stop and help your fellow traveler.  As the NY State lottery ad used to say, “Hey, you never know”.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the way the nation changed after 9/11.  What I think affects me most is the way children in this country have been raised in the wake of 9/11 but I have to be honest with myself and admit that those changes were already upon us.  9/11 just accelerated them and amped the changes up to 11.  My daughters are 14 years apart in age but they might well have lived in different centuries judging by their childhoods.  Child number one grew up in a suburban environment where children were already overscheduled to death but where she attended sleep overs every weekend, roamed the neighborhood without a chaperone, was able to walk to her friend’s house several blocks from our house and played games in the street into the evening.  Child number two started kindergarten the week that 9/11 happened.  Her every breath and movement have been strictly monitored by neighbors, school officials and parents of other children.  Sleep overs happen but infrequently and invitations require almost a background check.  There is no walking- anywhere.  The school is locked up like a prison and number two child, always a couple of years ahead of her peers, bitterly complained about the video cameras that were installed in the middle school.  I chalked it up to typical adolescent angst until I went to the middle school office to drop something off one day and saw a bank of monitors on the wall, remotely patrolling the hallways.  It was like being in lockdown.

After 9/11, the world for children has gotten harsher, less forgiving, and not at all fun.  Children get one chance to make a good impression.  There is no tolerance for childish behavior.  They live in a bubble.  Their friends are selected for them by their parents at venues and sporting events regulated with military efficiency.  Their academic success is judged not by their abilities and passions but by a matrix, as if a child’s efforts can be strictly quantified in some Six Sigma model.  Children who step out of line even slightly are treated like juvenile delinquents.  Children who defiantly march to their own drummers are socially ostracized.

We do this to our kids because of our own fears.  And those fears have been inflamed constantly over the last couple of decades by Eyewitness News and Fox and Glenn Beck types.  The fear of death keeps people in line.  It makes them look for saviors and big daddies who will protect them.  So, it’s not at all surprising that 9/11 put the nail in the coffin of American childhood.  The new American social landscape is more reminiscent of the village life depicted in the German film The White Ribbon.  Conformity and social hierarchy is strictly and cruelly enforced.  It makes me wonder if the Lesser Depression was also a result of this return to social hierarchies exacerbated by the effects of 9/11.

The NYTimes covered the ceremonies at Ground Zero this morning.  There are beautiful new fountains on the site outlining the footprints of the original towers into which water is falling.  George Bush and Barack Obama were present at the ceremonies this morning and describes their appearance this way:

It was the first time President Obamaand former President George W. Bushhad stood together at ground zero. Mr. Bush declined Mr. Obama’s invitation to join him at the site last spring, days after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But on this bright morning, they stood shoulder to shoulder behind a bulletproof screen — two commanders in chief whose terms in office are bookends for considering how the United States has changed since Sept. 11, 2001, particularly in its response to terrorism.

Mr. Obama read from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength.” Mr. Bush read a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, a widow in Massachusetts who was believed to have lost five sons in the Civil War.

Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush drew a brief cheer from the crowd before his reading. Applause also followed Mr. Bush as he left the stage.

They applauded the author of all the mayhem that followed.  He got a cheer for the torture and war and trillions of dollars wasted in Iraq.  This was the guy who was frozen on his little chair when he heard the news.  He didn’t excuse himself and stride purposefully from the room.  His security agencies were malfunctioning before the attack and couldn’t get his attention.  This is a man who unleashed the godly on the rest of us.

This is not a man who deserves applause.  Any president would have been foolish not to go after Afghanistan and in George Bush’s case, bin Laden wasn’t even his preferred target.  Saddam Hussein was.

Barack Obama got silence.  Maybe that’s because the 9/11 families know his assertions about the Iraq War were empty.  Maybe it’s because his PR department sent an ill-advised memo outlining how government officials should guide and shape public opinion regarding the commemoration of an event for which those families needed no instruction.  Or maybe they’re starting to realize that he doesn’t know what he’s doing with the economy.  Personally, if I were him, I would have had no role in the ceremony.

What was even more disturbing was the photo that accompanied the article.  There is George Bush, head bowed piously, and Barack Obama, nose stuck up in the air.  Pictures say a thousand words and this one says that someone at the NYTimes is preparing to Gore Obama.  Why not use 9/11 as just another opportunity?  That’s shameful.

Better yet, leave Ground Zero to the families.  It’s their day and their space.  The best way to commemorate 9/11 is to go to Jersey City just before sunset and walk to the pier on the other side of Manhattan.  As the sun goes down, the Tribute of Light will appear, filling up the sky where they once stood, those Americans and our friends that lost their lives that day.  They’re still there.  We’re still here.  We live another day to make things right.

30 Responses

  1. A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

    Really Mr. Krugman!!! looks surprised

  2. RD, I can’t even imagine what it was to live on your coast that day. From here, we just watched. Over and Over and over. Our generation’s Pearl Harbor. Today, looking at the front page of my paper I don’t even want to open it. Or watch TV. I think about your daughter and her world. Your line about America’s childhood. Yes. Said perfectly. I think it is all our childhoods, collectively here. Our generation raised under Kennedy and MLK. I remember the tanks rolling, the flags on the cars, the giant trucks and hummers on the streets. When we grew up? So different than for Brook. I think 9/11 broke the hearts of the American psyche. If only it had never happened. Take care RD. Sends hugs. Sends hope to Brook.

    • I was about 40 miles away on my way to work when the NPR station, WNYC crackled and went out. No problem, I switched to the Philly station. Got to work, couldn’t get on the internet. Everything really slow. Then my supervisor ran in and told me that his wife said that a small plane had flown into the WTC. The crackle of the radio was due to the antenna on the top of the North Tower going out when the first plane struck. I had friends and colleagues who could see the towers burning from the roof of our sister site about 20 miles from Manhattan. I was stunned more than scared. I ran out to the parking lot to listen to the radio in my car when I heard that the Pentagon had been struck. That’s when I knew we were under attack. My site opened the auditorium and fed the news stream to the big screen. It was like watching it happen in a movie theater. Some of my colleagues had children who worked at the WTC. They were frantic trying to get ahold of them. One of our colleagues at the other site was married to a guy who worked at WTC. He was late to work that morning and that saved his life. He was on the subway when the towers were hit.
      The schools closed early and it was so quiet here. That’s the thing I think I will remember from that day. It was not crazy panic here. It was quiet. For the first time that I could remember in my life, there was absolutely no humming anywhere in the sky.
      Brook’s school closed early because there were many parents who commuted to work in Manhattan so they sent everyone home. I don’t know who picked up the commuters’ kids. I suppose it was the person on the emergency contact list. That must have been a nightmare for those kids.

      • Bill, a friend and journo Iknow published this, out here today. B’s gen. When I read it? I remember holding my mother’s hand at B’s age — watching Kennedy crying and not knowing what was happening. Then MLK. God. Here is article: http://www.noozhawk.com/article/frances_lauten_9_11/

      • I live in the Boston area and was teaching my middle school class when the towers went down. We turned off the school’s internet connection and kept the information from the kids until near the end of the school day. Meanwhile in the background a few parent volunteers were helping the school administration make sure that no child was going home to an empty house. We had several military parents who were not allowed to leave their stations and parents who were stranded places and unable to get home to their kids, and staff was also making sure that those kids had places to go for longer than a few hours . Before the end of the day we let the children know what had happened. I live near the school, and my children were grown so I stayed at school until every child had been safely delivered into the hands of a caring adult. I don’t know about Brook’s school, but for us it was first and foremost about making sure the kids were safe. When I finally got home around 6 PM, I found my daughter’s boyfriend home alone at our house glued to the TV. He apologized for letting himself in, but he needed to be with “family”. I quietly told my husband as we were getting ready for bed that the day’s tragedy had one bright spot. “I think there’s a wedding coming.” (And there was.)

        • Here’s the thing that puzzles me: leaving aside the kids whose parents were actually there, which kids were not “safe”? The fact that we frame every blessed action in our lives based on some obscure and ill-defined notion of children’s “safety” is very troubling.
          It was a terrible day. No one could concentrate on anything else. It was a very good idea to send everyone home that day for a wide variety of reasons but “safety” was not one of them. Right after that, the electronic security doors went on every door of every school building in the district. You had to be buzzed in to pick up your kid and no kid was even allowed to leave a room without some long chain of custody. What are the chances that any of our school buildings in America are in danger of some kind of attack? As a former school board member, I have to wonder how much money we as a nation have collectively spent in the last decade trying to make our children “safe” and at whose request. Was it the hyperventilating, panicky parents who show up at board meetings who school boards are intimidated by and are constantly deferred to? Should those boards of ed given in to these requests? Or is it the insurance industry that wants to eliminate all risk so they can also eliminate all payouts for accidents?
          And I REALLY resent people who say, “Well, you can never be too safe. What if…?” Yes, what if. Anything *could* happen but generally anything, *doesn’t* happen.
          My personal opinion? I think suburbanites take great delight in exaggerating risk and then using it to grandstand and show how much more caring and diligent and “safety” conscious they are. It’s like a competition. And with Fox out there banging a drum about murderous muslims and child predators around every corner, it must give the susceptible a great deal of self-satisfaction that they can out do each other in helicoptering their children and your children and YOU for not being as attentive and diligent. It all comes down to the same judgmentalism that fuels homophobia and anti-abortion activities. It’s all piety. How much more pious and self-righteous can we get than our neighbors? How much more can we keep them in line? Piety and control seem to go hand in hand. So, I don’t buy the “safety” issue. Those kids were as safe before 9/11 as after 9/11. An electronic door will not keep out bad guys. Thank god there aren’t many bad guys.

        • The only “safety” issue I can think of for the bulk of children in schools across the USA that day is if some vulnerable kid was home alone and turned on the TV and was frightened by the images on it. They were never in any physical danger. I do remember a feeling that day of wondering when and if another shoe was going to drop. After 4 hijacked planes crashed, what next? We were uncertain for a while.

  3. All I can think of is the over a million people in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that were murdered in cold blood by American terrorists and war criminals. The deaths of less than 3000 people in the US is so minor to me it’s not even worth mentioning. Not a word is being spoken about these people, not one of whom were involved in 9/11 and none of whom ever attacked any Americans anywhere. There are millions of refugees still and absolutely no efforts being made to help them, pay reparations to the countries attacked by American terrorists, and certainly no efforts to put war criminals like George Bush, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and the other monsters in prison where they belong. I just hope and pray that someday the decent people in the world will address the real problem and end American fascism and warmongering, the way earlier generations dealt with Nazism. These are truly evil people and they will continue to murder and rape and torture and destroy until they are stopped.

    • The death of innocents abroad does not mean that the loss of lives during 9/11 was not just as tragic and pointless. It almost victimizes them twice when we blame their deaths for the overreaction of the country. They had nothing to do with the crazy response. That was all political opportunism and had nothing to do with the dead of 9/11.

    • I just hope and pray that someday the decent people in the world will address the real problem and end American fascism and warmongering

      Not to worry. When the borrowed money runs out , it will stop…and the way the powers that be are emptying out everything,it will be sooner than most think. I trust money running out as a means of stopping it over some battle …. seems a more though method

  4. Amazing prose. You are a brilliant writer and you put your finger on the pulse of what has been bothering me – this should be about the families. Vis a vis your comments re children, at a late age, I decided to get a rescue dog to ensure I would feel compelled to walk every day. Every day throughout the summer I noticed that there were no children in the park – none on the ball field, none on the soccer field, none on the tennis court – NO Children. I recall when I was a sprout that my parents practically threw me out of the door in the morning (after arranging for parent watchdog duty, and I wasn’t allowed back in the house till evening – with the exception of bathroom breaks. No children in both parks I walk the dog – there is something wrong here.

    • Dr. Lustig (google his video on Sugar as Poison) noted that the difference between then and now (regarding diabetes) was that kids played outside after school until evening, burning off the surplus food they ate at school. There weren’t sugar-drinks from sale at my school. We had to walk a long ways to get one.

      • Sugar has its place: Once in awhile and not in beverages.
        We drink flavored seltzer water in my house and iced tea with a bit of honey. Soda is a rarity in my house. But the funny thing is one time when my daughter was going on an overnight trip to Hershey Park, she was asked to fill out a menu request of all the things she would eat on the trip. So, she asked for salad and fruit and milk. Back then, the kid was picky, picky. She liked salad with chicken and cheese cubes and granny smith apples and she was and still is a milk fiend. A couple days later, the troop leader emailed me and told me that the kid didn’t put down enough food and wouldn’t she prefer soda? Everybody else was getting soda. I told her we didn’t drink soda in my house and the kid *likes* milk but told the troop leader to substitute if the kid didn’t object. I got the feeling that we were weird.
        BTW, the kid has never had a hamburger. I love hamburgers and would eat them 24/7 if it were healthy. As it turns out, I haven’t made hamburgers in my house for 10 years. Kid number one isn’t here anymore and kid number two has some kind of lifelong bet with herself to never touch one no matter how hot, juicy and delicious it looks.
        Chocolate, OTOH, is a major food group that has therapeutic properties and must be consumed in some form sometime during every day.

  5. […] Times, Big Journalism, Washington Monthly, Scared Monkeys, The Confluence, Weasel Zippers, Flopping Aces, The Jawa Report, Power Line, Le·gal In·sur·rec· tion, Atlas […]

  6. I am 100% with Paul! My feelings as a New Yorker exactly. The days after 9.11 felt to us like an occupied territory, with W climbing over the dead bodies with his megaphone and Giuliani policing our peace vigils. No fuzzy wuzzies from me, no need to wave the flag here. As for the families, why the need to do it so publicly? Forever?

    • I don’t think you have to wave the flag.
      But I think it is unavoidable that the site is going to be the territory of the families of the people who died there. It’s just something we have to get used to. Sort of like Memorial Day. It’s like a cemetery to them. If you were one of those families, would you want people to tell you to get over it, move on and stay away from the site? It’s not realistic. Let them have this one day. Commemorating the dead doesn’t have to be a public spectacle. I love the Tribute in Light. It’s simple and beautiful. No flags involved.

      • The families absolutely should be there. I am glad those memorials were built and no one ever should be able to tell them anything. It’s the speechifying and the patriotardic BS that drives me nuts.
        We have a firehouse across the street. They lost some members. At exactly 9:35 they came out in dress uniform and saluted. A few people passing by saluted back. Then they went in. It was real. It was touching.
        It was not for show.

  7. One more thing: I remember Bush didn’t dare to visit NYC until that day. he knew he was hated here. It was in part why he took a week to finally descend on the city. When he did , I felt that his climbing on our dead was the occupation with the boot on our necks.
    I also remember Bill Clinton, who was in Asia at the time, made it back in 2 days. He came in Union Square, a crowd instantly formed around him – with hugging and tears. No words. After he left, everyone was smiling though.

  8. […] of my daily go to blogs, The Confluence and Crowdad Hole had posted reactions to the Paul Krugman piece The years of Shame with varying […]

  9. Riverdaughter,
    The silence is one of the things that sticks with me too. Back then where I lived was near a major airport and a smaller airport for private plans. So the sound of planes landing and taking off every 3-4 min was just everyday background noise. Until 9/11. That whole day there was nothing. And it was the strangest thing to go out into the backyard and look up and listen, and there be nothing. Nothing with the exception of the couple of military jets that keep going past now and again.

    I also remember turning the tv channels and while watching the news, and at first when I went past channels like QVC they were selling away as normal, but you could see the looks on the hosts faces, they knew it wasn’t right. And eventually they did finally pull them off the air to be replaced by a static image. Which I think remained for the next week.
    It sounds strange, but that’s one of the things that let you know something’s wrong, those channels don’t go off the air for ANYTHING!

  10. […] More amazing that Mr. Krugman’s opinion is the number of blogs on the left and their commentators who are backing him […]

    • That this blog should ever be considered anti-American shows that blogger doesn’t actually read you. And the Glenn Reynolds quote? Can you really separate Americans into two groups, blame-America-first and question-America-never? The old McCarthy spirit is alive and well.

      • Like I care what a bunch of virulent right wing conformists think.
        But thanks for defending my honor. 😉

  11. I lived in Chicago at the time. After dropping off my son at preschool, I went home. The maintenance man asked me, did you hear about the World Trade Center? No. A plane hit it. Thinking it was a Piper Cub, I went upstairs and turned on the TV. I was transfixed by what I saw. I don’t recall at what point I tore myself away and went to pick up my son–worried parents were all doing the same–but I do recall being on the phone with my mother and saying mechanically in disbelief, “The second tower just collapsed.” I was worried that day because the Sears Tower, a mile away, seemed an inviting target, but later I figured our second-city status had spared us, for what that’s worth.

    I put up a flag in our window that day and took it down four days later in disgust at the outbreak of self-pitying jingoism and political opportunism. This was a hideous attack on us, as *Americans*–but it is not first awful thing that has happened, nor the last. I could see us squandering the political opportunity afforded by the world’s solidarity in less than a week.

  12. Dear Paul, I don’t know if you read my blog but your post today was pretty inflammatory. Whether or not I agree with you (Mostly), there are a whole hoard of people on the right who are going to use your “shameful” remarks against you and other people on the left. They will be asked whether they agree with you. They will be put in the spot to defend you. The pressure may get intense. Don’t give way. Don’t apologize. The left has a habit of never being fierce or defiant or sticking with their convictions. No one likes to be excluded or unpopular but sometimes, you have to stand by yourself before others get the nerve to join you.
    So, be unpopular. There are more of us out here than the right wingers would like to believe and it’s time we stopped acting like wimps.

    • Apologizing is a huge mistake the Left makes over and over…it’s like blood in the water for right wing types. Rather than stopping the attacks, it ramps them up. Confront a right winger if you want them to stop.

  13. The disadvantage of the various foods that are converted into glucose rapidly–refined sugars–occurs when the body can’t utilize it, and it is stored as fat. Drink a Cola or a beer after running and no problem. Eat fruit and the sugar is combined with fiber and not digested rapidly. No insulin spike.

    Also, “sugars” in excess means that the body requires more insulin to process it, and eventually the body can’t keep up if constantly overloaded. Humans haven’t has access to 156 pounds of added sugar every year as the U.S. consumes per capita until relatively recently. A child might get a square of maple sugar as a Christmas gift in the 19th century. Type 2 diabetes results from the so-called Western modern diet. High-fructose corn syrup is even worse than refined sugars in terms of how the body processes it.

    • Fructose is the same sugar that’s in honey. I’m not sure it’s the fructose per se that’s the problem. It’s the fact that there’s so much sugar in everything from crackers to Spaghetti sauce. Americans have a sweet tooth that I do not share but it’s hard to get away from it. Even if you don’t want to eat so much sugar, you can’t. That’s why it’s so important to not eat so much processed food. It would be far easier if food processors would just leave out the sugar.

      • It would be far easier if food processors would just leave out the sugar.

        …and the salt. I’m perfectly capable of adding my own, thank you very much.

        I don’t buy much processed food as a rule, and when I do I always check the label first. If there’re more than half a dozen ingredients and/or two or more “preservatives” listed, I pass.

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