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Robert J. Elisberg

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The Reality of Post-9/11 Thinking

Posted: 09/13/11 11:25 AM ET

All day on Sunday, friends would ask the same thing: "Have you watched any of the 9/11 tributes?"

My answer was no.

To be fair, I did see parts of parts of some. It was near-impossible not to when flipping channels. Tributes everywhere: documentaries, movies, interviews, before sporting events, personal memorials. It was if 9/11 had become a cottage industry.

My reaction wasn't a choice to ignore the 10th anniversary of 9/11. My choice was to honor 9/11 in my own way. Privately, personally. With respect. And hope. Not to make what happened that day something it isn't. Unfortunately that's what 9/11 has become. Something it isn't.

To be clear, some of what I saw was heartfelt, touching and meaningful. Yet at the same time, it crossed the line into the realm of self-indulgent.

At ESPN, they turned a baseball game into an 11-inning infomercial. While NFL games had tributes in pre-game ceremonies, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball pounded memories of 9/11 for 4-1/2 hours. The reverence was moving and appropriate, but there's a point when you must recognize that you're not presenting a religious service but a baseball game, and testimonial has morphed into the excess of hucksterism. It's a pandering that makes 9/11 something it isn't.

Even on Turner Classic Movies. Between each film, a member of the NYFD reminisced about the tragedy. The individual moment was poignant -- the overall effort was forced, making 9/11 something it isn't.

It was symbolic of all that happened throughout the day. To be clear, it was proper to memorialize the day. But memorialize it for what it was, not for the media event and cultural divide it has become.

And ultimately, that's the problem I had with the non-stop, forced effort to make everyone believe something that exists only in part, not in the totality that was being jammed down the nation's throats.

The tragedy of 9/11 was gut-wrenching to America, and its impact is felt a decade later.

Consider:

We were told throughout the day that we were commemorating 9/11 on its 10th anniversary so that "it isn't forgotten." But has anyone in America forgotten 9/11? Not just after 10 years, but arguably for even a single day during the past decade? To suggest that America might have possibly forgotten 9/11 is an insult to the reality of what has occurred. This isn't like Veterans Day, where once a year we're asked to salute those who gave the "ultimate sacrifice" for their nation. With 9/11, it's near impossible to imagine that anyone has forgotten it. And as long as Rudy Giuliani is around, we never will. As long as the Republican Party thinks they can make a political issue of it, we never will. As long as the far right tries to eliminate all of human history as "pre-9/11 thinking," we never will. And so, to memorialize 9/11 so that it "it isn't forgotten" plays right into the political issue, the political force that some have tried to make it -- rather than a day of solemnity over human loss and what America stands for to its citizens and the world.

Similarly, to be told repeatedly that the tragedy "brought us together as a nation" demeans what the legacy of 9/11 truly was. Because in truth, the tragedy of 9/11 could have brought us together as a nation, but instead it has been used as a wedge to divide us. In fairness, the deep sadness of the day did draw the nation together for several, raw, emotional weeks -- and importantly, it brought the world together in support of America, for several powerful weeks, as well.

But then, the Republican Party saw 9/11 as a political hammer they could try to use for political gain. "You're either with us or against us," President George Bush cried out, building the first bricks of the dividing wall. We had the ghastly specter of a first-term Republican Congresswoman daring to call a decorated American veteran in Congress "cowardly," for his lack of lock-step support of the now-discredited Iraq War. We had the Bush Administration and GOP push through laws that stripped away cherished American freedoms by wrapping it in a fake Red, White and Blue box called the "Patriot Act," suggesting bluntly that if you didn't support it, you weren't loyal. We had Terror Alerts created for political value. We had another medal-winning war hero run for president and be "Swift Boated" as not being patriotic enough.

And on and on it went, and continues to this day. Continually smearing the popularly-elected U.S. President as foreign, seditious, radical -- when what he's doing is trying to clean up the disasters his predecessor left behind.

And on and on and on and on and on it goes, the division of America using 9/11 as a bludgeon, not the healing curative it should be. That's why the memory of 9/11 was so dear to me, yet the mistreatment of its memory so disdainful.

And if anyone doesn't believe it -- rather than respectful disagreement, just watch the squealing, divisive comments to this that now will come. Each and every one proof of the very point.