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My little brother's wife, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, died on United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.  When I see photos of the memorial erected there, I am pleased that it is not festooned with a really big US flag, or dozens of small ones.

I've always felt that the flag-waving response to September 11 is wrongheaded and shallow.  I realize it was an attack on our country and the flags are well-meant attempts to display unity.  But our self-absorbed knee-jerk nationalism is part of the problem that made some people hate us enough to conduct the September 11 attacks.  It annoys me that people don't seem to get that irony, and believe that buying and waving a flag (which was probably made in China) is a sufficient commemoration.

Perhaps waving flags of all nations, or a flag with an earth and human faces of all colors on it would be more appropriate.  Sadly, that symbolism may be too complex or even blasphemous to many Americans.  The general feeling persists that September 11 was, more than anything else, a profoundly American tragedy.  Little recognition is given to the reality that it was a human tragedy visited upon citizens of the world, and above all upon the families of the victims, who actually live in many nations.

When commemorating September 11, Americans seem to prefer to chew on the national sore tooth rather than acknowledge that the cause of and the solution to such violence are both bigger than any one country, and within our own hearts.

To their credit, sometimes the commemorations do make note of the tragic fallout which can never be disconnected with September 11.  I think that, at every single solemn ceremony on September 11 henceforth, somebody should stand up and say,

"In addition to the 4000 who died today we also  commemorate the tens of thousands more in Afghanistan, Iraq, the US and elsewhere whose death sentences were written in the events of this day.  The faces of innocent victims of September 11 are of every color, every age and every nationality.  And they did not all die in America on September 11, 2001."  

Rather than diminishing a commemoration of our family members' deaths, such a reference would bring more context and more significance to their sacrifice.

September 11 victims' family members have a different experience of the day than most Americans.  For me, one of them is frustration that the tragedy, and what it means to those it touched the most, is so poorly understood by the ignoble throngs who feel the need to make superficial and self-serving gestures.  This is one reason why many of us choose to avoid all media reporting around this date.  What we feel in our hearts for our loss and for the losses of countless other families who also lost loved ones as a result, can never be represented by mere flag waving.

Please, save your flags for the 4th of July.  Spend September 11 thinking instead about what you can do to make the world a less violent place.

7:35 AM PT: Note:  This diary was submitted as a letter to the editor of the Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper, the Lincoln Journal-Star.  To date it has not been published, in whole or in part, and it is not known whether it will be published.


What do you do to commemorate September 11?

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52%38 votes
0%0 votes

| 72 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  and Amazing Grace played on bag pipes (4+ / 0-)

    Does not convey the same meaning when it is a media cliche.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:46:48 AM PDT

  •  Fortunately I'm not among the throngs (2+ / 0-)

    of shallow, ignoble flag wavers prone to superficial and self-serving gestures but something did come to mind as I read your comments:

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.
    Grace, not disdain.
  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chicago minx, jayden
    But our self-absorbed knee-jerk nationalism is part of the problem that made some people hate us enough to conduct the September 11 attacks.
    I doubt that flag-waving nationalism is what made people hate us enough to conduct the September 11 attacks.

    Rather, it seems obvious that Al Qaeda was motivated by our military actions and general intervention in the middle east.  Al Qaeda didn't attack other countries where people like to wave flags, like Denmark, just as they didn't attack other democracies because they "hate freedom."

    In any case, if waving a flag is going to make someone hate me enough to cause me harm, is the onus on me to abridge my behavior to placate some nut?

    Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

    by Caj on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:59:22 AM PDT

    •  Very good point Caj, and well said. Clearly flag- (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      micsimov, figbash, Roadbed Guy, scott5js

      waving alone did not provoke the attacks.  That is reductio ad absurdum.

      My point is that flag-waving as a facile gesture exemplifies the kind of behavior that makes us the Ugly Americans the world loves to hate.  

      I have done quite a bit of international travel, and everywhere I go people of other countries tell me Americans just don't get it, they think everything that happens is all about them.  If it happens on foreign soil, it might as well not have happened as far as Americans are concerned.  

      So when we flag-wave every September 11 instead of looking at the bigger picture and taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions on a world stage, it plays right into the bad stereotype that only reinforces our self-centered reputation world-wide.

      I want people to think about what it means to victims' family members to see the response to this international tragedy be represented by a "We're Number 1" attitude.

      •  and referring to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Roadbed Guy

        objects from WTC as 'hallowed'. Or WTC itself as 'hallowed'.

        (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

        by PJEvans on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:23:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The mutiple American war cemetaries in Europe, (3+ / 0-)

        the Philippines, and Asia directly refute this assertion.

        If it happens on foreign soil, it might as well not have happened as far as Americans are concerned.
        That's ahistorical myopia. There's more than one reason to hoist a flag.
        •  I am referring to flag-waving as a response to (0+ / 0-)

          Sept 11, not flag-waving in general.  Of course there are plenty of reasons to hoist a flag in other contexts.

          Nor am I referring to what we did decades ago or any other good deeds we've done or are doing around the world.

          I'm talking about the current state of how we are perceived world-wide and how we reinforce that perception that perception with mindless symbolism.  And I am talking about commemorating an event that cannot and should not be reduced to nationalistic posturing.

      •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        I have done quite a bit of international travel, and everywhere I go people of other countries tell me Americans just don't get it, they think everything that happens is all about them.
        I've heard that sentiment too, but never about flags.  

        As I mentioned, there are some countries where people are super-flag-wavey, like Denmark, and the sheer number of flags adorning landmarks in Paris is pretty impressive (to be fair, though, their flag is simple enough that you can put 20 of them on a building in bouquets of 4 each, something you can't do with a US flag without causing tremendous eye strain.)  This practice is not seen as self-absorbed exceptionalism, nor specific to the USA.

        There are other countries, like Portugal and Germany, where people are wary of flag-waving due to their prior experience with fascism, and they may view the practice with distaste.  But when Europeans criticize Americans for thinking everything is "about them," they're not talking about our tendency to wave flags in commemoration.  They're talking about our involvement in foreign affairs, our use of power to push our own interests, and to a lesser extent, the attitudes of our tourists.

        Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

        by Caj on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 09:04:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  At issue is why the flag is being waved. Is it (0+ / 0-)

          nationalism or patriotism?  There is an important distinction that most people misunderstand.

          Do the Danes wave their flags to commemorate innocent people killed on their soil because of some political backlash?  Or do they just wave it because they are proud to be Danish, every day, all the time?

          If Denmark made a habit of interfering in other countries' affairs, of globe-trotting without respect for local customs, of using 20% of the world's resources for only 5% of the world's people, of being stubbornly mono-linguistic, of expecting other people to conform to their way of life/culture/tastes except when it threatens theirs, ad nauseum, their flag-waving wouldn't be so perceived as so innocuous.  So yeah, I agree with you that American domestic behavior must be seen in the context of how we behave on the world stage.

          Our flag-waving in response to 9/11, especially in light of what the US did in the Mideast as a response, conveys a sense of blind nationalism and can easily be used as simplistic imagery indicative of our national parochial mindset.

          Perhaps you live in a state where the 9/11 flag-waving is more solemn and well-meant.  For most people in my state it means, "We are the USA and we kick dirty foreign butt if you mess with us."  I don't think that's an uncommon sentiment, unfortunately.

          •  I disagree with some of your perceptions (0+ / 0-)

            about Americans.  I can assure you that Europeans visit the US with the same lack of respect for local customs.  I am in NY.  Furthermore, the ugly American tourist is an anachronism at this point because the common language in Europe is English.  A lot of the bad perceptions about Americans were based on lack of facility with language.  Yes, there are yahoo American tourists, but there are yahoos in every country.  You will not meet ruder tourists than Britons, whereever they travel, particularly in Europe.  

            I also disagree that we are stubbornly monolinguistic.  And I'm curious to learn how we expect people to confirm to our way of life/culture/tastes.  

            Most of the American-European distinctions are a simple fact of geography.  All of Europe can fit within the US, with a great deal of space remaining.  Europeans live much closer to other nations/cultures/languages than most Americans ever will.  This facilitates cultural exchange and foreign language development.  Most of our foreign language experience occurs in the classroom.  This has changed with the proliferation of Spanish speaking immigrants in particular.  In NY, many of us speak a modicum of Spanish simply through osmosis.  

            Furthermore, there are ages old antipathies in Europe:  For example, the English hate the French, Dutch, and Germans.  Watch some reports on futbol and hooliganism to see the same nationalism you decry in Americans occurring on the European stage.

            In short, I don't see much difference between American patriotism or nationalism and that of other nations.  I also don't have a problem with people waving a flag to commemorate 9/11.  I am a NYer.  Here, we don't get much of that on the individual level, which is fine with me.  But I am not willing to view the actions of others with a jaundiced eye.

            I also disagree that a commemoration of 9/11 should include a commoration of our atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are separate events.  I am all for commemorating the lives lost in those countries, but I do not think that should be tied to a commemoration of the lives lost and the attack on our country.  We do not honor the lives lost in Nagasaki and Hiroshima on Pearl Harbor Day for the same reason.    

  •  This is a heartfelt letter. Thank you. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    micsimov, rubyclaire, Munchkn
  •  I don't disagree but most (6+ / 0-)

    people who wave the flag on 9/11 are well intentioned.  They want to somehow honor the dead;  it's the same feeling as on Memorial Day or Veteran's day.

    tell mr. godot I'm walking the dog

    by chicago minx on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:17:40 AM PDT

  •  The last few 9/11's (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    have past me by and I haven't even registered the date. And I don't think I would have even thought about the upcoming anniversary if I hadn't seen this diary.  I knew no one that was killed that day.  I don't know anyone who knew someone that was killed that day.  I've personally "moved on" from 9/11 quite some time ago, but I fully understand why those who knew people who died might still be profoundly affected by it.

    That said, they wanted to strike a major blow against the US that day.  Those events have turned us into a completely paranoid nation IMO.  In that respect they succeeded in damaging us significantly.

  •  I have to ask: When's it going to be OK to say (0+ / 0-)

    "September 11th" in regular conversation?

    I just called my insurance company about a payment that's due on Wednesday, the 11th. But I had to choose my words carefully and say "I'm inquiring about the payment that's due on Wednesday" or "due on the 11th" because half the time, if I say "I'm inquiring about the payment that's due on September 11th" then the other person goes into "OMG I can't believe he just said September 11th" freak out mode like we're not even supposed to talk about it or conduct business on that day.

    No one would think twice about saying "I'm inquiring about the payment due on December 7th" - maybe it was the same way in the decade after Pearl Harbor, and it eventually got more acceptable to say. That was way before my time on this planet.

    "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

    by yg17 on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:35:30 AM PDT

    •  I guess because Pearl Harbor was always (0+ / 0-)

      known as Pearl Harbor, more so than December 7th.  I think the 9/11 sensitivity has waned just a bit in the last couple of years. I know a couple of people who have a birthday on 9/11;  what are they supposed to do?  It still is just a day aside from being a horrible anniversary.

      tell mr. godot I'm walking the dog

      by chicago minx on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:48:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  One of the best pieces I read after 9/11 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    figbash, Munchkn

    was written by Susan Sontag and she wrote, if I remember correctly, "Let us mourn together, but let us not be stupid together."  I think she foresaw that the response to the attacks, especially with a Republican in the White House, would be total, unlimited war and a shredding of the Constitution.  I was living out of the country at the time of the attacks, and whenever I would come back on visits, the amount of flags I would see everywhere was, to me, frightening.  On one level I could understand the "rally round the flag" notion, but I couldn't escape from how disturbing it all felt; then came the war with Iraq ....
    Thank you for your letter!  Glad to know I'm not alone, especially from yourself.

    The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

    by micsimov on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:44:46 AM PDT

  •  Sept 11, 2008 - my personal tragedy (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chicago minx, leftynyc, Munchkn, jayden

    On the evening of Sept 11, 2008 I was out at a campaign volunteer meeting.  When I came home I found that there had been a fire in my house, almost all of my possessions were destroyed and all 3 of my cats died.  I've always flown the flag on that day, and at one point I was standing in front of the house with a firefighter and looked up and saw the flag still flying and it brought me a quiet feeling of comfort.  

      just saying......

    sometimes the dragon wins

    by kathy in ga on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:56:01 AM PDT

  •  I light a candle... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...and I pray.

    I am so sick of cable TV turning to "all 9/11 disaster stories, all the time" in August every year. I spent the last months of 2001 fighting depression from watching too much news coverage on that day.

    What is the matter with people that they have to put these psyche-shredding shows on the air? Wasn't that day bad enough?

  •  Sept. 11, 2009 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A friend and I flew over the Gulf of Bothnia from Stockholm to Helsinki.
    The next day we visited Sibelius Park. Talk about Finnish patriotism.
    On the 13th we took a boat from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia. I would tell my friend "We are not in the Soviet Union anymore."
    A bit of other peoples' patriotisms.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 10:41:02 AM PDT

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