A year has passed and the nation is strong. After the shock of destruction, this nation rallied to maintain morale and overcome the fear that terrorism so successfully awakens. We were able to examine our mistakes and plan for the future. After carefully reviewing our character, many have realized that our dedication to liberty, rule of law, and democracy make us the most innovative and just nation in history.
Of course, this would not seem to be the case at Yale.
The poster announcing the University’s events for September 11, 2002 is distasteful. Its graphics show the towers falling, the Pentagon split in two, and a plane taking a nose-dive into the day’s schedule. Instead of reflecting on America’s progress since last year, the poster and the announced events seem to imply that we have not gotten past our fear. Tomorrow Yale will remember the horrors of the eleventh and choose to linger on the lasting affects of the attacks. While faculty panels will discuss the world after the 11th, most of the events call for reflection and remembrance, while ignoring any semblance of a forward-looking perspective.
This should not come as a surprise to those who remember the campus reaction to 9/11. While the earliest candlelight vigil on Cross Campus was appropriately solemn, the succeeding days showed a Yale where only a few voices were heard.
After the initial shock, students were largely expected to distance themselves from their emotions. Instead of proudly waving the American flag, many faculty members and students called for extreme criticism of the nation. Although some prominent campus figures willingly declared their support for America, most equated patriotism with chauvinism, and excited patriots with unthinking brutes. Because of the sterility that currently plagues many academics, students were cautioned against passing judgment on our enemies; “After all,” the argument went, “who are we to even say that Osama was wrong?”
Yet while many members of the campus felt that an almost superhuman form of tolerance should replace love of country, many students did not. Yalies from across the conventional political spectrum proudly waved flags and wrote letters to the Yale Daily News, declaring their support for the President and for the rebuilding of American morale.
Such voices must be heard again.
Tomorrow night, at the conclusion of the candlelight vigil on Cross Campus, assuming that the administration does not suggest this on its own, I invite students to join in the singing of “God Bless America.” This song has been heard throughout the nation since last year, and has even made its way into baseball’s seventh inning stretch. It is simple, powerful, and beautiful. And if it is moving for fans of America’s pastime, then it can be moving for members of our American university.
At a time such as this, Yale must remember that she has a unique commitment to serving the United States. Our alumni have been presidents, cabinet members, warriors and martyrs. To cite the memorial near Beinecke, the men of Yale, true to her traditions, did not die so that we could pontificate on the futility of words such as “good and evil” or claim that patriotism is the refuge of the uneducated.
Tomorrow’s events leave little room for patriotism. Tears and solemnity will be welcome at the music concerts, but I doubt that American flags will be.
Tomorrow’s academic discussions of post-9/11 art, civil liberties and religion could be interesting. These are important issues to debate, and I hope that a number of voices with different perspectives will join the conversation. It would be a shame if the panels either failed to hear all sides or to discuss topics relevant not just to distant scholars, but to America as a whole. The entire Yale community must recognize how lucky we are to live in a nation where our voices can be heard and respected, and take advantage of that reality.
May the coming year bring a Yale that reaffirms its dedication to the ideals of this land, and that serves her nation proudly. And may the Sons of Eli recognize that their education does not merely teach them to use the confused terms of modern criticism, but to understand their place as leaders in this nation. A critical eye will serve us all, as we guide America, but so will the belief that ours is a country worth defending.
Justin Zaremby is a senior in Calhoun College.