Originally Published: SEPTEMBER 11, 2003
Most of us will spend today, 9/11/2003, in relatively normal pursuits. Like physical pain, we cannot actually feel emotional pain once it has passed. But we can remember the experience. Two nights ago, I circled Manhattan with a group of industry executives aboard The Highlander, hosted by Forbes.com. As we rounded the tip of Manhattan and headed for the Statue of Liberty, many of us quietly scanned the southern New York skyline. The image of the World Trade Center materialized before us much like an image remains on the television screen for a few milliseconds after the set is turned off. That rising tower scaled out of proportion to its surroundings remains in our imagination, even as the pain of that day recedes into dull memory.
In one more anniversary, a new Southern Manhattan skyline will begin to emerge, and in three more anniversaries, a phoenix will have risen as the Trade Center is replaced by completely new and different structures. The images we still retain will be replaced, and the pain of 9/11/2001 will be further distanced from our national and personal memories.
Shortly after 9/11/01, it seemed the World Trade Center would become an Alamo for the 21st Century. Not that it would be a last, hopeless stand, but it would serve as a rallying cry for America and its allies. "Remember 9/11" now sounds like a distant chant, generating debate about America's rightful role in the world, rather than a call to action against the continuing forces of terrorism and the "axis of evil." "Remember 9/11" has failed to become the mantra for a renewed American commitment. Instead of inspiring a national consensus, 9/11 is the cause of the greatest debate on the world and national political stage.
As we move further away from 9/11/2001, remembering the event itself is being replaced with debate over our response to the terrorist groups that caused it. News reports today are spending very little time showing the actual images from that fateful day of infamy, and instead are dwelling at length on today's realities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and Korea. We are numb to the pain of two years ago, yet we are becoming increasingly emotional about the aftermath and our personal attitudes toward the Middle East. I sense the media, commentators, and politicians want to avoid reminding us of how terrible we all felt two years ago. They are marginalizing the reality of 9/11/01 and replacing it with the news of 9/11/03.
Last year, on the first anniversary, network programming focused heavily on the World Trade Center events and the cost in human lives and its impact on the national spirit. Advertisers left the air for a day. Political campaigning virtually shut down. This year, business is returning to normal after the year of national mourning. Democratic candidates are exploiting the day to cautiously attack the policies of President Bush and his administration. While some advertisers are avoiding news programming and special program events about 9/11, most ads are running as scheduled. Television networks are airing regularly scheduled programming. News headlines focus, appropriately, on the day's major news events. As we pass the day in relatively normal and mundane ways, we hope and pray there will be no events that once again shock us out of our reverie.
PBS, appropriately, has been the only network to actively feature programming centered on the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. Showtime is airing "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," a docu-drama starring Timothy Bottoms about President Bush and the government's reactions immediately following 9/11. The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, and Discovery Times are airing several programs during this week. HBO is running "In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01." Which follows Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his staff. But the broadcast networks will be eerily silent, except for newscasts.
For the second year in a row, I will be going to Yankee Stadium on 9/11 to participate in America's Pastime. It is New York. Baseball is uniquely America. Appropriately, the Yankees are playing Detroit, a city that personifies the American experience, past and present. Fortunately, the Tigers are also the worst team in baseball, so the New Yorkers have a better than even chance of winning. On 9/11/2003, I want to think about winning, about superiority. Like the rest of America and the World, I don't want to remember the pain. But I hope we never allow ourselves to forget the reality of two year's ago today.