It's painfully obvious to me, as an American, that most people I come into contact with in this country have incredibly short attention spans. Particularly where important things are concerned. I mean, most of us can remember an ultimately meaningless event, like Michael Jackson's hair catching fire, or who starred in a movie that spent less time in theatres than the average bucket of popcorn, or maybe even who said what to whom on an episode of South Park in the first season.
However, important events, things that truly matter to the here and now, that affect people's lives, ultimately get forgotten.
September 11, 2001 is one of those events.
It's been forgotten. The pain, the misery, the fear that the event itself created is all but a faded memory in the (tiny) minds of most people. When the Mayor of Baltimore can use 9/11 in a cutesy fashion to attack Federal spending; the impact is forgotten. When a hippy college professor in Colorado can compare the victims of that day's events to the Nazis; the trauma is forgotten.
We quaked in fear for a few months, we scrutinized our mail for traces of white powder, we acquiesced in the removal of shoes on the airport security line, and then we forgot about why we did those things and went back to being fat, dumb and happy. Yes, there are people out there who want us dead, but I'm watching Fear Factor right now and can't be bothered.
As I write this, I'd bet at least a thousand people have snuck across the border into this country. While I complain in this space, another Arab just bought a few more pounds of C4 for his diabolical plot to blow up a nuclear power plant near Osh Kosh, Wis. While we wrangle about how to fix our government "retirement" system, the same government is trying to figure out how to supply everyone with a "National ID Card" (your papers, please?). The only thing tasteful about the National ID is that it hasn't yet been proposed that the particulars be tattooed on your forearm.
But I digress.
Three thousand Americans died one September morning because of who they were: Americans. And if anyone thinks that the people who perpetrated such a crime have been content to rest on their laurels, you'd be in for a shock. That was a prelude. The encore has been delayed because of better law-enforcement, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the knowledge amongst Muslims the world over that their activities are being scrutinized. It will happen again. Perhaps not on a September 11th sort of scale, but it will happen again. The odds are against us in this little game. The other side needs to get lucky only once while we need to be on our game every day.
But you would never know it to look at the state of affairs in your local community. Life goes on as it did on September 10th, 2001, which is, I guess, a good thing. Commerce continues. Babies are being born. The mail is being delivered. The grief, the shock, has worn off for those of us who merely experienced the drama secondhand via television.
For those of us who were part of the drama, live and in color, the scars have not healed. They never will. Which is what makes me angry about what everyone else is thinking and doing. Perhaps that's irrational. Maybe it's even a bit nutty. However, that doesn't make me wrong, maybe just a bit more sensitive.
For those of you content to forget and then use the event to advance an obscure, classroom-oriented agenda that makes no sense, but which sounds artsy and intelligent in that sort of setting, I say this: not on my damn watch. This is not a subject to be taken lightly, nor to be examined under the extremely narrow microscope of what passes for "scholarship" these days. For those of you who once accused our President of using the event for political advantage and who now go about using it for clear political advantage, I say: when the Federal government actually plows an airliner into your city's largest building and kills your citizens, you might have a point. Otherwise, shut the fuck up.
I'll bet that 9 out 10 people who read this today won't have clue one about what I'm talking about. I'd further wager that half of that remaining 10% might even admonish me for being way too literal and, perhaps, overly sensitive. Well guess what? being overly sensitive is a constitutionally protected right in this country; just ask the NAACP.
All the sermonizing, all the National ID cards, all the border security in the world, will not fix the root of this problem: human beings are easily distracted. That's why gum is placed at the checkout counter in the supermarket. It's why advertisements ooze with sex. It's why a neon sign is still a good way to draw customers into your establishment. It's why Las Vegas continues to be a tourist magnet. people are distracted by the thought of a stick of Juicy Fruit, or a woman in a bikini selling beer, or the bright flashing lights, promising excitement, drawing them into activites which are not truly in their best interests.
The problem we're facing is the ability of the human animal to forget that which is unpleasant. The ability to choose to be willfully blind to danger if it becomes uncomfortable to think of it.
I remember predicting three years ago that what would be required to make people remember would be a re-enactment of the event. Unfortunately, I seem to be vindicated. I pray it never happens again, I certainly don't wish it. But it will be necessary.
How unfortunate for us.