9/11: What Are We Never Forgetting?

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.

19 thoughts on “9/11: What Are We Never Forgetting?”

  1. I too was 12 when this thing happened. And honestly I have forgotten it. The only things I remember are what we’re reminded of every year by bumper stickers, signs, and the now occasional tattered tshirt worn by the patrons of said Walmart sliding their WIC cards to buy their babies food so they can afford their natty light and pall malls. The same ones who won’t waste their gas to go vote but scream about Obama ruining this country and scream at the kindly lady who works at the EBT office for their stamps being late. They happily display the signs in their yard but have no clue what they mean or who they are representing. Or what they’re representing. I too have had a bit of fun in throwing these signs out in the road or using them in a bonfire. I vaguely recall drawing a dick or two on a few after they wouldn’t stop putting them in my yard. (So it said vote for 8==D ) so I ha e lost my entire point here – I’ll just say I enjoyed this article 🙂

      1. I saw this in my notifications and was like “if you wAnt your car keyed daily” and that’s exactly what you said! In theory this would be good – out of curiosity, what part of the Country do you live or did you grow up in? I live and grew up on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia where my opinions are the type of shit that get your house burned down or your ass kicked in a Walmart parking lot (lol)

          1. Oh my god it’s in the shape of one of those damn ribbons!!!!!! Seems to me a more clever design would have even an infinity symbol since we’re supposed to never forget/forever remember. Hmmm.

    1. Thanks! I just spotted a typo I need to fix. I did my undergrad independent research thesis on propaganda cinema intended for internal distribution by the Nazis and the Children of God cult through a frame of Erving Goffman and Marshall McLuhan and a couple others. One of the main things I noticed that was definitely not lost on the propagandists that followed the Nazis (the Children of God videos never got much international traction thankfully) is the use of false martyr narratives to get the party members to double down on efforts. One of the first Nazi produced films was about Horst Wessel and followed these lines. Insofar as 9/11 has been used as a propaganda tool to promote the wars and empty nationalism, it’s a refinement of this technique. Horst Wessel in the film is supposed to be an everyman, but on some level is still Horst Wessel, however fictionalized. The audience can’t put their projections into his martyrdom or narcissistically appropriate as their own as broadly as they can when the Horst Wessel is expanded to “firefighter”, “cop” or “troop”.

  2. The Children of God videos were really interesting too but they were mostly chosen for the project because there’s a giant archive of them online and I didn’t need my older sister to do a bunch of German translation. I still have that paper laying around somewhere. It’s kind of a transitional mess that pushed me toward my current understanding of film. Oddly t pushed me there because all the analytical categories I was trying to use refused to hold up.

  3. My current understanding put as simply as possible: the separation of genre tendencies is fairly worthless as an analytical tool, film works in two basic modes overlapping three basic tendencies, the modes being conscious and unconscious, the tendencies being pornography, propaganda, and poetics. These of course overlap and push against each other, hence my characterizing them as tendencies and not distinct categories.

  4. As a non-American, this is a refreshingly reassuring opinion. When I’ve more time ill comment on this properly but in the meantime well done. Great blog.

  5. I was in the US almost a year to the day after the attacks on the twin towers. When the attacks had occured I had been at on duty at a fire station. I was on the phone to my then wife who had stated that I should “Turn the TV on. A light aircraft or something has flown into one of the twin towers.” To cut a long story short my wife worked, in the UK, for one of the companies who were baed at the top of one of the towers.
    As I watched the second plane hit, she asked if her friends and colleagues would be alright. I said No. Sadly I was correct.
    We visited the US almost a year to the day after this on a prearranged holiday. And what struck me was how venomous some of the public were about all this. Don’t get me wrong, it was a barbaric act and I still feel sad about it to this day but the feelings I heard relayed to me from ordinary taxi drivers, postmen etc. were scary. I remember being in a pool and a couple came over and started speaking to us as they’d heard our accents. Within minutes the husband was telling us how the US should “Just nuke the whole of Iraq and Iran”. When I asked him why he just said, “Because we can, we’re bigger than them?” I asked him if he thought the rest of the world might not like that, he replied, “We’re America, what the fuck do we care what the rest of the world thinks?” I found this quite unsettling and as scary an ideology as those who had taken the controls of the those planes on 9/11. Thankfully I have spoken to more Americans since then and understand that, though some over there have a very limited view of the world due to the often-doctored facts being vomitted out on a daily basis by the media and that most Americans don;t even have a passport, I am releived to discover blogs by people like yourself that remind us that not all the people can be fooled all of the time and that, when these attacks occur, some have a greater understanding of the complexities of them and odn;t just sit there continuing to listen while school children read stories to one another for the sake of a phot shoot…I mean, after all, fool me once, shame on me…fool me twice…erm, (pause) you see you can’t fool me twice.
    I liked my time in America. I understand that we have a ‘special relationship’ but I don’t thikn that this should be a monogomous relationship. The world is becoming too small and too crowded to be able to fall out with our neighbours and simply throwing nukes over the fence everytime they kick a ball at our windows just isn’t going to end well.
    Cheers, Ned.

    1. Your anecdote about the guy saying “Let’s nuke the whole Middle East” strikes a chord; I’ve heard many remarks like that. The things that are beautiful in America are jaw dropping, the things that are ugly are frequently horrifying.

      I remember as a kid just being bombarded, first with the the video of them collapsing over and over and then with this bloodthirsty jingoism that I think left a large mark on my thinking as it was all happening when I was taking the first tentative steps towards political consciousness.

      Thanks for reading and for the long thoughtful comment.


Leave a Reply