An interesting discussion erupted from yesterday’s post, and yet again, someone mentioned how great it was that “America came together” following the attacks of September 11. I don’t mean to belittle this feeling, because I was there (or quite close), and it felt like the entire world came together for those incredibly surreal days following the event.
But let’s be honest, shall we? On the actual day of September 11 in New York City, the intensity of caring dissipated the farther north you walked; in Chelsea, I remember people still laughing about other topics and actually flirting. It wasn’t until the media started their week-long coverage that everyone in Manhattan suddenly got the enormity of it. Could you entirely blame them? After all, it was something of a binary event: you either knew ten people that died, or else you didn’t even know ANYBODY who knew ANYBODY that died.
And I have to say, it is true that the rest of the country engaged in a civil lovefest unseen in American history before or since. I was in Texas eight days after the event, and when I showed my driver’s license to a shopkeeper, she looked at me in a stunned silence with tears in her eyes, asking me if I was okay. We were objects of talismanic affection for people who had never even been to the City.
But anybody who thinks this moment of national unity was long-lived is fooling themselves. I took another trip about six weeks after 9/11, and by then, the AM airwaves were already burning up with incandescent rage, aching to bomb the holy motherfucking shit out of some Arabs.
For our part, New Yorkers were not that interested in war, not even with Afghanistan. We’d smelled the ashes of 3,000 people, and we were sickened by the whole concept of any more death. I saw the following graffiti in several neighborhoods: “our tears of grief are not cries for war.” That may seem fruity to some of you red-staters, but it was the beginning of the country’s divorce from New York (and reality, but that’s another rant).
Soon thereafter, the government decided to tell New Yorkers to fuck off, and gave friggin’ WYOMING more money to defend themselves. If it weren’t for our stunning home-based terror system – built with scarcely no help from Washington – I wouldn’t even take the subway. As it is, I feel safer than ever, but only because we came to the realization that we are basically going it alone.
Looking back on the episode from the vantage point of three and a half years, I would conservatively suggest that our “national unity” lasted about four weeks, give or take a few days. I wished it had been longer, but our fear was instantly hijacked. I want to remember what that taste of togetherness was like, but now, whenever I hear anybody wax nostalgia about America coming together, my first thought is “yeah, that was a wacky month, wasn’t it?”
Michelle and I pass out salads to victims’ families at the Armory, 9/12/01