Remembering 9/11 Without Obsessing Over It

At some point, it will be time to move on.

Starting in 2006 when the September 11th attacks were only five years in the past, MSNBC has marked the anniversary rebroadcasting NBC News’s coverage of the attacks as they happened on that fateful day in real time. The coverage would start just minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 am when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and continue non-stop through roughly Noon when it would make way for regular news coverage. During that time, anyone watching would be able to relive every moment of the attacks as they were covered live on television, including coverage of the moments when United Flight 175 flew into the South Tower at 9:37 am, the initial reports of a fire at the Pentagon which turned out to be the result of American Airlines Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon, and then the reports about a passenger jet crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvania that turned out to be United Airlines Flight 93, which was apparently headed for the Capitol Building in Washington had the passengers on that flight not taken matters into their own hands. In between, there were, of course, the rumors about other unaccounted for planes in the air, rumors about other fires in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as reports about the evacuations at the White House and the Capitol Building. In between, there was the statement from President Bush just minutes after the attacks became public knowledge, and, of course, the horrifying sight of both towers of the World Trade Center collapsing. I can remember watching all of this unfold live on television from the office where I was working at the time and wondering how many people I’d just seen die live on national television. Seeing it rebroadcast every year for a decade was at the same time captivating and disconcerting.

This year, for the first time since 2006, that programming was missing from MSNBC’s lineup. At first, I assumed that this was due to the fact that the network was deep into covering the ongoing impact of Hurricane Irma, which has caused a destruction of its own kind in Florida and threatening the Southerneastern United States as we speak. As it turns out, though, the decision not to run the 9/11 coverage again had nothing to do with Irma. Brian Stelter, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources reported this morning on Twitter that the network had made the decision not to run the footage this year earlier this summer and instead focus on other ways to mark the anniversary and talk about the 9/11 attacks. This doesn’t mean there was no coverage of the anniversary today, of course. Like all of the other cable networks, MSNBC broadcast the moments of silence that occurred this morning, President Trump’s speech at the Pentagon, and parts of the memorial service that has taken place at Ground Zero in New York City since 2002. Without the real time rebroadcast that the network had run for the previous ten years, though, this anniversary of the attacks felt different somehow, and I suspect it signals a shift in the way we remember the attacks in years to come.

Six years ago, when the nation marked the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I noted the fact that there was a marked difference between the way the media was covering that anniversary, and the way the nation dealt with the tenth anniversary of another national tragedy, the attack on Pearl Harbor. As I noted at the time, there was no national obsession with the anniversary in the way that we displayed over the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In part, of course, that was because the war that began on December 7, 1941 had been over for six years and the United States was at the start of what became a four-decade long standoff with the Soviet Union in which our former adversaries in Germany and Japan became close allies. In fact, in December 1951 American troops were fighting a Communist regime in North Korea and its Chinese protectors and Japan was both an ally in that war and a place where soldiers granted leave would visit for rest and recreation. Germany, meanwhile, had become the frontline in the European standoff with the Soviet Union, with West Berlin as the hot point of that standoff. By contrast, in both 2011 and today, the war that began on that bucolic September morning sixteen years ago is still going on, and it shows no signs of ending anytime soon. It’s because of that, in part, that I suspect “remembering” the attacks seems like far more of an opening wound considering that we’re now at the point where there are people in college and High School who have no living memory of the day and that they will soon be replaced by people who weren’t even alive when the attacks took place.

All of this led to a Twitter conversation this morning that I think is worth reproducing:

Some #September11 remembrance activities I wholeheartedly endorse, like @AriFleischer‘s “live” tweets. 1/?

— Allan Bourdius (@UnrealAllan) September 11, 2017

However, except for “significant” anniversaries (next one at 20), I don’t care for the “National Day of Mourning” attitude. #September11 2/?

— Allan Bourdius (@UnrealAllan) September 11, 2017

To quote from “We Have Cleared the Tower” (“From the Earth to the Moon”, ep. 3) 3/? #September11

— Allan Bourdius (@UnrealAllan) September 11, 2017

“You’re sad. You mourn the loss. But you can’t wear the black arm band forever.” #September11 4/4

— Allan Bourdius (@UnrealAllan) September 11, 2017

To which I responded:

I think once we hit 20 or maybe 25 years, it will become less of a thing. This year is the first time I can remember that MSNBC isn’t /1

— Doug Mataconis (@dmataconis) September 11, 2017

isn’t rerunning the Today show coverage of 9/11. Partly, I assume, that’s because of #Irma. But still, you’re right, at some point /2

— Doug Mataconis (@dmataconis) September 11, 2017

you have to move on. Even the NYPD and NYFD stopped wearing the black band on their badges at some point. 3/3

— Doug Mataconis (@dmataconis) September 11, 2017

None of this is to suggest, of course, that we should forget what happened on September 11th, 2001, far from it in fact. Like Pearl Harbor, it was a horrific attack that took the lives of thousands of people and changed the course of history over the course of only a few fatal hours. It will obviously be a historic event that will be remembered as long as the United States exists. For the same reason, it’s also appropriate that we engage in the public memorials that take place in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Additionally, the fact that the events are that day are something that so many of us saw unfold live on television and that they impacted two of the most important cities in the country means that they will likely continue to resonate in a way that Pearl Harbor didn’t due simply to the differences in how the media worked and the fact that Hawaii was, at the time, a distant place in the minds of most Americans. Finally, as long as we continue to fight the unfortunately named “War On Terror” it’s likely that the event that marked its beginning will continue to be a moment that is marked both solemnly and with a large degree of media coverage.

At the same time, though, as the Twitter conversation above notes, there does come a time when it comes time to leave the mourning behind. As I noted, even the police officers and firefighters in New York City eventually took the black bands off their badges. It doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten what happened, it just means that there comes a time to move on. Perhaps we’ve reached that point now that we’re at the sixteenth anniversary of the attacks. No doubt, we’ll see expanded coverage when we reach years like 2021, 2026, and so forth. Eventually, though, there will come a time when the September 11th attacks are as far in the past as Pearl Harbor is today. At that point, there will be more people alive for whom the attacks are events in a history book than there will be people with a living memory of September 11th and it will likely be the case that the anniversary will be marked in different ways than we see today. That won’t be a bad thing it will just be reality.

Previous posts on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks:

2016 — The Lost National ‘Unity’ Of September 11th
2012 — 9/11’s Legacy Of Fear
2011 —  A Decade Of Lost Freedom, No Football On 9/11?December 7, 1951 v. September 11, 2011, Paul Krugman: 9/11 Has Become ‘An Occasion For Shame’
2010 — Instapundit’s Initial Take On 9/11

FILED UNDER: National Security, Policing, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. KM says:

    There’s an entire generation graduating soon from high school who were born after the towers fell. For them, it might as well be Pearl Harbor we’re talking about because the emotional impact just isn’t there. It’s not that they are heartless or don’t see the damage for what it was; rather their entire lives and worldview have been shaped by this *past* event while many that lived through it keep trying to make it *present*. Adults need it to justify why the world is the way it is and all the crap that’s been done in its name for over 15 years but the young just see another tragedy that keeps claiming tears.

    We’ll stop “mourning” 9/11 when enough post-Millennials don’t pay due observance. Then it will shift to endless articles on how horrible that generation is for not giving a damn about our endless national trauma. Let the dead rest, America. They deserve it.

  2. Mikey says:

    I think the remembrances have become more muted over time, just because time passes and we learn to deal with terrible events without falling apart at each memory.

    I do, though, remember Rick Rescorla, chief of security for Morgan Stanley, who sacrificed his own life while saving nearly 2,700 that day. He showed the tremendous difference a single person can make.

  3. Facebones says:

    As a New Yorker who spent a good part of that day trying desperately to get a hold of my wife who worked in Downtown Manhattan, I would love to see this day stop being fetishized.

    Because then maybe we can finally start to look at all of the craziness we unleashed in the aftermath and try and bring it to heel. Things like:

    – Open Ended AUMF
    – Enshrined Security State
    – Patriot Act
    – National attitude of “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”
    – Iraq war
    – Destabilization of Middle East
    – Torture becoming an accepted tactic of interrogation

    And on and on.

  4. Modulo Myself says:

    To be honest, one could have made this argument two months after it had happened. It was clear early on that the government and establishment were determined to use the event as a means to get what they wanted, which was a return to unquestioning deference to authority and a return to an imbecilic Manichean view of the world. The opportunism was totally obvious and nobody in power or in the media did anything to stop it.

  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    If we really gave a *bleep* about 9/11, we’d rally behind the first responders who are not getting the healthcare they need because they were exposed to toxic substances. That the Zadroga Bill finally took effect in 2015 is disgraceful and disgusting, and a slam on all of us who claim to care about the brave heroes of that day.

    We love our heroes: we say “thank you for your service” to members of the military – and then we don’t make sure they get the medical and healthcare they need. We’re gutless citizens, and craven patriots.

  6. Jen says:

    It’s interesting, as I was thinking exactly this earlier this morning. At some point, memorializing it to the depths that some do starts feeling oddly distasteful–I think the best parallel is the “fetishized” comment made by Facebones above.

    Of course we won’t forget. It was a horrific attack both in scale and the fact that it happened on US soil was jarring.

  7. Kylopod says:


    For them, it might as well be Pearl Harbor we’re talking about because the emotional impact just isn’t there.

    Of course, there are still several sitting US senators old enough to remember Pearl Harbor when it happened.

  8. Slugger says:

    Pearl Harbor was followed by appropriate and effective action. 9/11 was the pretext for a variety of actions that did not stand up to careful examination in the first place and have largely turned out to backfire. Therefore, the flag waving and emotional string pulling had to continue for longer.
    Obviously, those who lost a loved one should have a different reaction. For the rest of us, we should put the grief and shock behind us.

  9. michilines says:

    @Facebones: And at the same time, we allowed in more Saudis than ever before. I work in ESL and have never been able to understand why we had MORE and I mean hundreds more Saudis after 9/11 than we had ever before.

    Saudis and the following Kuwaitis negatively impacted ESL programs is the U.S. Many built their programs to accommodate them all and have struggled to deal with the drop off.

    Admin types attribute it to the cycles of enrollment. I think they got drunk on Saudi and Kuwaiti money and didn’t plan for the downside.

    No one mentioned it in class today, but I always think about it every September 11th. Most of the people in my classes are from a country that the terrorists were from that day.And we let thousands more of them in afterwards. Thousands of Saudis. For years.

    Just look up SACM.

    All those winger idiots screaming about CAIR are idiots.

    I’ve been biting my tongue for 16 years with Saudis.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:


    As a New Yorker who spent a good part of that day trying desperately to get a hold of my wife who worked in Downtown Manhattan, I would love to see this day stop being fetishized.

    Seconded. That day encompasses memories of panicked flight out of Lower Manhattan, devastating loss and, for weeks afterward, attending one funeral after another for friends and colleagues who had been lost. Given where I worked and who I work for, I went to far too many of them. I imagine that you (and every other New Yorker) will intimately understand and relate to that.

    That having been said, I refuse to sit Shiva for the rest of my life. I have yet to attend any of the memorial services beyond the first. I made the decision that, for me personally, the funerals and the grief had to end on that day. I prefer instead to honor those lost by celebrating their lives.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    Obsessing about past wrongs is what has given us a) the Troubles b) the Balkans c) innumerable other revenge-obsessed cycles throughout history.

    And too many politicians have used “nine eleven” as nothing more than a bloody flag to push through whatever legalistic idiocy they want to impose on the populace. Not interested in participating.