Paul Krugman’s piece in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times offers a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11 that seems representative of the way our nation as a whole views the event. Sept. 11, 2001 has been reduced to merely another weapon in our collective political arsenal, a symbol of presidential incompetence for the left and a rallying call for aggressive internationalism — in the name of “national security” — on the right.
Krugman’s article, “Promises Not Kept,” begins with the words “Five years ago” — a clear invocation of the tragic events that touched the life of every American and many of the world’s citizens. But for Krugman and too many other liberals, “five years ago” has become the jumping off point for a discussion of Bush’s failures in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at home. No longer, it seems, can we remember the acts of individual and collective heroism and tragedy that occurred five years ago; rather, we as a nation use these events to tell our own stories not of that day but of the past five years — stories marked not by the courage of a New York firefighter but by the arrogance of our secretary of defense.
Our tendency to view Sept. 11 through the lens of the intervening years disturbs me not because I hold some blind hope that our politicians and commentators can see the tragedy separately from the political landscape that has ultimately come to define it. Instead, I fear that in framing Sept. 11 in such a political way, we may come to forget the truly human aspects of that day. Aristotle said famously that “man is a political animal,” but does that mean that we must don our blue- or red-colored glasses and see everything in our lives as somehow Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative? I hope not. To be a political animal does not mean to be tied to a political system that has become all too defined by the strife between two competing ideologies. Rather, it means to celebrate the human: our ability to feel, to think, to become a community. The value of these eminently human qualities was tested, and ultimately prevailed, on Sept. 11, 2001. So why can’t this day be a celebration of our humanity, a humanity that triumphed over trying circumstances?
The events of Sept. 11 touched us far too deeply to be trivialized by a system that politicizes every occurrence in our lives. Foreign policy hawks should not use this day to sell us on yet another danger that Iraq presents. Liberals should not use this day to remind us that we are currently stuck in a quagmire in Iraq. Rather, on this anniversary if on no other day, we should come together as a nation and as a community — a community that, for perhaps the first time in many of our lives, came together with one spirit, pouring out our grief and sorrow. We became a community that rallied behind the courageous acts of a number of individuals, regardless of the political affiliation of anyone involved. A community that, for one precious day, forgot to couch everything in the language of petty political maneuvering. Wouldn’t it be a special tribute to Sept. 11, 2001 if, five years later, we could somehow return to a day when we were neither Republicans nor Democrats, but just human?
Xan White is a sophomore in Calhoun College.