For some reason everyone kept asking me this year if I’m going to “do anything” for 9/11. In 2002 I squeaked by without explanation with “It’s too soon”, same in 2003 although I got more fish-eyed looks for the explanation. By the next year I had formulated a better explanation for my misgivings on a “Remembrance Day” but by then it had seem to fall out of vogue. This year for some inexplicable reason (unless that we have a presidential candidate that wants to continue the war against terrorism ad infinitum who just nominated a Vice President who actually wants to go to war with Russia) it was on everyone’s lips last week. Here’s why I’m against “celebrating” 9/11, even though it’s dangerous to say…even as a New Yorker that was several blocks away when the planes hit.
I’m not actually against remembering the event. This is obviously important to remember both the heroes who died and the innocents they couldn’t save, but to do so without keeping the scope of our tragedy in perspective is very dangerous. It creates an air of ethnocentrism that makes any attack on Americans more important than attacks that are being suffered around the world on any given day. True, it’s not often when 3,000 lives are lost in two fell swoops that caused Ground Zero, but even our name for the effected spot should remind me of the hidden propaganda that causes us to speak in dangerous ethnocentric tones. Simply using the phrase “Ground Zero” to describe the attack site of the World Trade Center exaggerates our tragedy to the status of other much more serious global tragedies.
“Ground Zero” is a phrase coined by the Manhattan Project to describe the point of impact on the earth’s surface with a nuclear weapon, specifically in reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To compare the 3,000 Americans that al-Qaeda killed at the American Ground Zero with the 70,000 Japanese that we killed at the original Hiroshima Ground Zero and the 50,000 at the Nagasaki Ground Zero, both of which attacks that we were behind within three days of each other reflects the hubris that we, as Americans, have been trained with to think that our families more important than other families in the world. To have the gall to compare the damage caused to us by two planes with the damaged we caused with two nuclear weapons is to say that our families are actually thirty-three times more important than any Japanese family.
Another way to see the absurdity of letting the World Trade Center attacks subconsciously replace Hiroshima when the phrase “Ground Zero” is heard, we can look at the sheer area of destruction that we caused compared to the amount of damaged that was inflicted on us.
On most maps, the site of the Hiroshima attacks looks much like the maps of the World Trade Center damage.
…but these maps make us lose perspective on the two events since the sense of scale is destroyed in these two maps. Let’s fight our own ethnocentrism and look at the two ground zeros in the same perspective. We have to zoom out a good deal to do that, but here’s a map of the actual damage at our Ground Zero that we suffered. Of course this is actual damage and not the fall-out, residual damage, or fire damage that spread around the area:
My apartment was just on the other side of Broadway and the only damage done to my apartment was ash. If the Al Qaeda had caused us as much damage on 9/11 as we caused at the original Ground Zero, the map would look like this…
Again, keep in mind that this is just the actual destruction, not the deadly nuclear radiation that would be carried away on the wind and poison the rivers, bay and the ocean, not the fires that would spread not just through the financial district (since this would be completely destroyed) but also Jersey City, Hoboken, and Brooklyn, and not counting the structural damage that would effect not just the half-dozen surrounding buildings but the half-dozen surrounding towns. While I was safely in my John Street apartment on 9/11 if I had been the same distance away from the bomb we dropped I wouldn’t have even lived long enough to hear the explosion. Everything and everyone south of Houston Street would have been destroyed. NYU wouldn’t be a haven for survivors, Washington Square campus would have been destroyed. The Holland Tunnel, Brooklyn Bridge, and Manhattan Bridge would not have been an escape route for New Yorkers, they would have all been destroyed.
Before I put too fine a point on it, this isn’t to say that I’m against a Remembrance Day. All I’m advocating for is too keep a sense of perspective about it. We would be remiss as world citizens if we did not keep it in perspective, and even more so if we taught such ethnocentrism to our students. I’m overjoyed that many New York schools observed a minute of silence to remember the attacks, but to teach a sense of perspective about the terror we should also observe a full 3 minutes of silence on June 6th to remember D-Day. We should observe roughly 15 minutes of silence on June 18th to remember the lives lost in the battle of Waterloo. And on August sixth we must observe 47 minutes of silence on to remember Hiroshima. Are any of these events less important than the World Trade Center attacks? Can we claim to have suffered more than Iraq has in the last seven years? Can we claim New York is now a more pitiful city to live in than Darfur? Can we say that we are attacked more unjustly than Georgia? We cannot and because of this we must acknowledge that the attacks on September 11th have made us a part of the global family and not separated from it.
P.S. On a lighter note: This week’s award for the unusual blog stat goes to whomever searched the internet for “mädel aus krain” and found my site. Anyone speak German out there and no what he was interested in?