Patriot (Day) games: exploring the fantasies surrounding 9/11

Guest post by John N. Duvall and Robert P. Marzec

duvallWhat’s happening for the 14th anniversary of 9/11? For one thing, there are a lot of Harley rides. The sixth item in a Google search for “14th anniversary of 9/11” informs you about the 2015 9/11 Memorial Ride Harley Ride starting in Knoxville, Tennessee, in order to “remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on September 11th, 2001.” It will kick of with a ceremony that “includes a flyover, ‘Taps,’ and a 21-gun salute” and end with a “concert that night and special priced meal deal at the Shed Smokehouse & Juke Joint.” Hot damn. But you don’t have to travel to Knoxville to ride in memory of 9/11. In Bay Village, Ohio, “on Sunday, September 6th, there will be a ‘Never Forget 9/11’ Ceremony and Processional Ride to honor and remember the families of the loved ones that lost their lives in the four hijacked airplanes, World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville.” The ceremony “will conclude with a 21-gun salute, ‘Taps,’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’ ” Similar rides will be held that day in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and even Vancouver, Canada, where a “45-minute service is dedicated to all those who perished on September 11th, 2001 and to recognize and thank all who serve each and every day to make the lives of Canadians and Americans safe and free.” BBQ to follow.

It’s not the Fourth of July, for sure, but 9/11 is about as good as Labor Day as an excuse to continue to enjoy summertime activities. Bikers are far from the only ones recreating in remembrance. There are plenty of golf tournaments happening that weekend with the announced goal of helping us remember 9/11. And on Friday, September 11, the Lincoln Center crowd can go hear Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor.”

Whatever we “do in remembrance,” however, never produces historical thinking. Remembrance is about the creation of local community and non-reflexive national identity. This is why fiction about 9/11 (as well as our new book, Narrating 9/11, which examines this body of literature) matters. Embedded in this transformative historical moment, the best narratives focusing on the terrorist attacks provide nuanced mediations on not only the pain and trauma of the day itself but also on the United States’ Orwellian designated response (from preemptive war to extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation) that turned the American “homeland” into the planet. (If you think that’s rhetorical excess, look at chapter 12 of The 9/11 Commission Report, which declares “the American homeland is the planet,” which implies that the folksong made famous by Woody Guthrie really needs a makeover: “This land is our land / Your land is our land”). Occasionally, this fiction even anticipates our present reality. Jess Walter’s 2006 novel The Zero, for example, imagines a monster truck rally (“WE’RE TURNING VETERANS ARENA INTO A GIANT MUD PIT TO HONOR OUR DEAD HEROES!”) that exactly captures the dehistoricizing of 9/11 that contemporary instances of commodified recreational remembrance produce.

In all this “remembering,” a fundamental fact is forgotten; namely, that the terrorist attacks were immediately instrumentalized by the Bush Administration, which with the aid of Homeland Security’s orange and red alerts constantly reminded Americans to “be afraid, be very afraid.” Has all that much changed since George Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law a month after the terrorist attacks? The Obama administration is bracing for the anniversary by ramping up security around the world. A year ago, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that US military forces were “operating at a high state of readiness” around the globe. Meanwhile, Current Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is in the process of extending this military vision in his new “force of the future” initiative (often referred to as simply “the force”—which may not have much resonance with the next generation of American’s until after the “force awakens” in theaters December 18th of this year). And President Obama’s National Security Strategy, in addition to listing traditional concerns such as “Homeland Security” and “Persistent Threats of Terrorism,” now lists “Climate Change” as a key security issue. As the essays we collected in Narrating 9/11 reveal, the expansion of militarized holds on everyday existence are on the rise. The reduction of the historical complexities surrounding 9/11 to memorialized recreation only further compromises and conceals our depoliticized relations to an event now officially shrouded in the holiday designated “Patriot Day.”

John N. Duvall is the Margaret Church Distinguished Professor of English at Purdue University. The editor of the journal MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, he has published extensively on modernist and contemporary fiction. Robert P. Marzec is an associate professor of English at Purdue University. The associate editor of MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, he is the author of An Ecological and Postcolonial Study of Literature: From Daniel Defoe to Salman Rushdie.  Together, they are the editors of Narrating 9/11: Fantasies of State, Security, and Terrorism, published this month by JHU Press.

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