There’s a patch of grass adjacent to the property I live on. This patch of grass is, like many similar patches of empty grass across this grand country, a space to place unimaginative propaganda. A couple months ago the town was in a big debate over whether to put a Wal-Mart in and the space was filled with “WAL-MART: YES!” signs laid out like Wal-Mart was running for town treasurer. The town’s lawns were saturated with these signs. On multiple occasions I found some placed on my own lawn overnight which I promptly removed and desecrated. Swept up in the fervor of these signs literally laid down like astro-turf, numerous “citizen activists” started attending board meetings so they could make sure the town approved construction of this Wal-Mart. They emphasized their pure intentions as “engaged citizens”. The Wal-Mart went through, so the signs have largely been removed. They won.
A week ago a giant “9/11: WE WILL NEVER FORGET” sign with two giant US flags hanging from near the top like tacky earrings was put on this patch of grass. It doesn’t specify anywhere what it’s never forgetting beyond “9/11”, a signifier that was emptied of any meaning as soon as the US invaded Afghanistan. I can’t really help but take it as a victory gloat that the Wal-Mart signs worked. The “soft” imperialism that’s outsourced, the numerous slave laborers who work in places the makers of these signs most likely couldn’t name but who they sit drinking Arizona iced tea looking out on the international proletariat from their plantation, the “everyday low prices” of a Wal-Mart, gives an insecure domestic population their feeling of superiority. This feeling of superiority is a means of carefully charting out the territories of “suspicious” knowledge. It “never forgets” to forcefully wallpaper over with memory its willful forgetting, a forgetting that often takes the form of having always-already forgot.
This is a useful false consciousness for the powers that be. “America” is a brand. Its logo is the flag. The flag represents the endless ruminating over the dead that died for a thing never specified and therefore the solemn duty we all hold to keep buying worthless crap so that these deaths weren’t commodified in vain. The deaths of the several hundred thousand Afghans, Iraqis, and others must be forgotten in order to “never forget”.
That I can’t even find a reliable estimate of the death toll in these military “adventures” speaks to the current politics of death that were, if not ushered in by the decisions made in the aftermath of 9/11 at least further internalized by the public. It was frequently decried that the horror of the Holocaust was that the dead were reduced to a number. In the US overseas campaigns that continue to the present, as was the case in the US backed slaughters in South America and Indonesia from the mid-60s to the 1980s, to even be counted, to be among the numbered dead, becomes a privilege for the occupying force. And insofar as the wars are seen like a baseball game, a sentimental reflection on the glory of “America” wherein the home team must be rooted for lest the Rockwellian joys of the past time be tarnished. A form of journalism emerges that repeatedly recreates the reporting of inverted scorecards the equivalent of if an ESPN report went “Tonight, the Yankees scored 4!” and then stopped. That which is never remembered we can never forget.
Several million people protested in cities across the world on February 15, 2003 to stop the US invasion of Iraq. This was quickly forgotten in order to never forget.
I had just recently turned 12 years old when 9/11 happened. My impressionistic memories of the years that followed were of arguments with angry sentimentalists who bought “Support the Troops” magnets for their cars and would grow as defensive and antagonistic when asked where the money from the sale of these magnets went as they would at people pointing out the conditions in the factories where their Wal-Mart goods were manufactured or the conditions of the employees in the stores where they were sold. These have to be forcefully forgotten in order to never forget.
Like his brother, Jeb Bush has raised a massive sum of money the year before the election. By quantity of campaign contributions, he’s poised to become the next president of the United States. If Jeb Bush doesn’t get the nomination, the even more jingoistic Donald Trump will run instead.
The sins of the previous Bush administration?
I guess we forgot.