9/11 Anniversaries

How long will we stop annual commemorations on the anniversary of that horrible day?

Politico‘s story “Few options for Barack Obama on 9/11” brings to mind a question I’ve asked over and over the last few years:  How long will we commemorate the anniversary of that horrible day?

Every year it’s a challenge for the White House: how to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year is especially awkward, given the controversy around President Barack Obama’s remarks in support of an Islamic cultural center and mosque planned for a neighborhood near ground zero in lower Manhattan.

The White House has not yet announced the president’s plans for next week, though a source familiar with the matter was doubtful Obama would travel to New York.

But the president’s options are otherwise limited: Last year, he marked the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon, and a return appearance there seems unlikely. This year, first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will travel together to Shanksville, Pa., to honor the 40 passengers and crew members who died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

That leaves the former World Trade Center site in New York, where Obama hasn’t been since the 2008 presidential campaign. But a presidential appearance at ground zero on Sept. 11 — where an activist group plans to protest the Islamic center project that day — will almost certainly reignite the political firestorm.

There’s no doubt that the 9/11 attacks are the single most searing national event in my memory.  Only the moon landing — a much happier event — comes close in my lifetime.  But I’m a bit surprised that we feel the need for a national commemoration every single year at this point.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary.  Because of our attachment to multiples of 10 and 25, we’ll no doubt have a big ceremony.   But will we still be doing this for the 12th anniversary?  The 18th?  The 43rd?

When did we stop doing this for Pearl Harbor Day?  Or the sinking of the Maine? Or the battle of Gettysburg?  Or the Boston Massacre?   At some point, those became mere footnotes, getting scant mention and commemoration only locally, if that.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Well, it would be nice if they’d actually get something built to fill the hole in Manhattan instead of having a monument to bureaucratic uselessness lying there.  At this point maybe they should consider putting in a large wave pool or something.  Maybe a Walmart.  If they’d done actually covered up the scar then even the mosque might not be so controversial.

  2. Franklin says:

    “This year is especially awkward …”
    Only in the author’s small mind.

  3. Franklin says:

    To actually answer the question posed, well as long as there are live people that were directly affected (losing a spouse, for example), there will be *some* sort of commemoration.  How big of a to-do it is, however, will probably drop off significantly in year 11.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m afraid Franklin above is right on the issue of commemorations.  The last encampment of the GAR was in 1949.

  5. James Joyner says:

    as long as there are live people that were directly affected (losing a spouse, for example), there will be *some* sort of commemoration.  How big of a to-do it is, however, will probably drop off significantly in year 11.

    That’s my guess as well.  We’re still commemorating Pearl Harbor Day at the site of the Arizona and, presumably, will be doing so as long as enough people care enough to visit.  But I’m talking about the sort of thing that we’re doing with 9/11, where the President is expected to show up every year.

  6. Derrick says:

    <q>That’s my guess as well.  We’re still commemorating Pearl Harbor Day at the site of the Arizona and, presumably, will be doing so as long as enough people care enough to visit.  But I’m talking about the sort of thing that we’re doing with 9/11, where the President is expected to show up every year.</q>

    I agree that it should be less of a “state” cermonial, but if you think Obama can be the President who stops this you haven’t been paying attention.  Can we even fathom the insanity that would erupt from the Right if Obama didn’t show up for a 9/11 ceremony? 

  7. legion says:

    No, we’ll keep “commemorating” (read: using for base political grandstanding) 9/11 until the GOP regains power, whenever that turns out to be. Then they’ll conveniently forget it ever happened, and lord knows the Dems will never bring it up…

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    “There’s no doubt that the 9/11 attacks are the single most searing national event in my memory.”

    It’s certainly one of the top three in my lifetime but I’d say in terms of searing the national consciousness it was edged out by Kennedy’s assassination. But you’re right philosophically that it ultimately becomes almost masochistic. The problem is the genuine grief of those directly affected (some of whom probably want to forget it) gets overlaid by grandstanders with agendas. 

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    If it were up to me we would never stop commemorating the day and the lives lost.  It’s also the day we should remember all of the lives lost in the subsequent wars that came about because of 9/11.
     
    9/11 represents the day we understood evil exists in the world and we cannot isolate ourselves from it.  It’s the day we should have learned power is respected and diplomatic niceties and laughed at by many people.

  10. James Joyner says:

    It’s certainly one of the top three in my lifetime but I’d say in terms of searing the national consciousness it was edged out by Kennedy’s assassination.

    I missed being alive for the Kennedy assassination by a couple years and have only the vaguest real-time recollections of the moon landing, which happened when I was 3-1/2.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    I usually go to a British friends house for his Fifth of November party, I assume it’s still on this year.

  12. William Teach says:

    We should continue honoring the day until the new skyscraper is finally built. And then we can ramp down the commemoration so it is a day similar to December 11.

  13. <blockquote>9/11 represents the day we understood evil exists in the world and we cannot isolate ourselves from it.  It’s the day we should have learned power is respected and diplomatic niceties and laughed at by many people.</blockquote>
    We need a comemoration for the day several years later when most of us realized that panic is just a dangerous as denial and that doing anything just for the sake of doing something is not a sign of being powerful, but of being powerless.

  14. <blockquote>And then we can ramp down the commemoration so it is a day similar to December 11.</blockquote>
    Look, I’m just as pissed at anyone that they let Indiana become a state, but it’s time we let that sad episode in our country’s history go.

  15. wr says:

    Plunk — If you and yours only discovered that evil exists in the world on 9/11, that certainly accounts for your naivte on just about every other subject, Since it had apparently never occurred to you until that day that you weren’t living in a magical fairyland, I can see why you are now little more than a festering mass of hate and fear. For those of us who understood a little about the world before that day, we are able to put in perspective the fact that not everyone loves us, and don’t feel compelled to butcher anyone who doesnt’ fall down in gratitude whenever our name is mentioned.

  16. rodney dill says:

    December 11th?

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    “I usually go to a British friends house for his Fifth of November party, I assume it’s still on this year.”

    But he was trying to blow up a lot of politicians.

  18. sam says:

    I’m always hoping to run into some RAF pilots on September 15 so I can buy them some drinks.

  19. Steve Plunk says:

    wr,  Wow!  That’s a nice bit of insult.  Now grow up and act like a civil human being.
     
    I knew there was evil in the world but I suspect many in this country still thought we could just negotiate away all the troubles.  Festering mass of hate and fear?  Get a grip my friend.  Who was butchered on 9/11?  A lot of innocent people who didn’t deserve to die.
     
    Next time bring your ‘A’ game.  Ranting in such a manner really makes you look bad.

  20. William Teach says:

    Er, sorry, typing too fast, no edit button. Obviously, I meant December 7th. Interesting that several folks weren’t actually able to make the connection. What do they teach in school nowadays?

  21. <blockquote>Interesting that several folks weren’t actually able to make the connection. What do they teach in school nowadays?</blockquote>
    Or several folks were mocking you, anyways.

  22. Peter says:

    I read once that the decoration of gravesites generally is pretty much over after about 30 years.  Does this mean the 2031 will be the last major 9/11 commemoration?