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Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2002 / 3 Tishrei, 5763

Diana West

Diana West
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When 'healing' overshadows reality | The best thing about the media wave soon-to-be crashing over Sept. 11 is that when the wash finally recedes, it will leave Sept. 12 all alone.

But first, the deluge: scores of "special reports," "town halls" and documentaries, each one dedicated to the one-year anniversary of the day Islamist terrorists brought jihad to America on a colossal new scale; or dedicated, anyway, to the one-year anniversary of "Sept. 11," which, in some ways, seems to have become something else entirely. The fact is, 9/11 didn't survive its first year in history solely as a salvo in a deadly serious, murky war that instantly outmoded our comfy, old reliance on military deterrence and necessitated the adoption of difficult, new strategies of pre-emption to safeguard our peace and freedom. Judging by the tenor of many ceremonies scheduled for the coming days, not to mention the "coping strategies" being pushed by teachers and psychiatrists, Sept. 11 may now be seen more as the definitive assault on the American psyche, a clear-cut, uniquely emotional event that came and went, and has only to be commemorated in a big way before we as a people can, as they say, move on.

That may be overstating things, but not much. There is the unmistakable tendency to mark Sept. 11 not as a historical date on which we were forced to confront a hostile world through national trauma, but rather as a national trauma that has forced us to confront a historical date through personal loss -- or, more likely, through the personal loss of some 3,000 of our fellow citizens and their grieving families. Sept. 11, of course, is both. But losing the historical significance on its first anniversary amid what looks to be a veritable festival of "healing" ballet and music and murals and quilts across America risks losing all meaning. There must be some way to pay tribute to our dead and to what has died in our society without losing sight of how and why so many were killed, or how and why we must go about defending our future.

But don't expect the around-the-clock network "news" coverage of the day -- in itself a farcical exercise in excess -- to do much to fill the gap. Still to come is "The Day America Changed" on Fox, not to be confused with "The Day That Changed America" on CBS. There's "America Remembers," which is what NBC has dubbed a six-hour-long Today Show, and "America Remembers," CNN's name for 12 nonstop hours of Aaron Brown, Paula Zahn and an assorted cast of rescuers and survivors. "America Really Remembers" is more like it.

Having experienced 9/11 as an unfolding cataclysm the first time around along with the rest of us, the networks would finally seem to have packaged the surprise attack to their satisfaction, complete with pre-scheduled interviews, carefully lit displays of sorrow and a selection of tasteful sponsors. In so doing, though, they have made the discomfiting joint-decision to broadcast few actual glimpses of the attack on the World Trade Center itself, or the towers' terrible, horrible, subsequent collapse. This, according to one network, marks an approach of "extreme discretion" -- something we should all ponder during the much-magnified close-ups of tears, pores and running mascara that are sure to fill a good chunk of anniversary airtime.

It almost begins to feel as if there is an effort, or at least some inchoate desire, to take the "war" out of the grievous act of war that took place last Sept. 11, leaving only grief, requiring only mourning -- or ballets, or massive choirs whose members assume the names of the 9/11 victims, or videos about the attack's impact on libraries and librarians (a film showing next week at the Library of Congress). This non-historical approach may make for a neat emotional arc, but its own self-censorship garbles calls for "healing" or "closure." What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was an act of war, and that war is far, far from over. The first anniversary of the attacks may be a significant milestone for the bereaved, and an occasion on which to pay our respects, but there can be no "healing" or "closure" anytime soon.

What there can be, and should be, is a day of reckoning. As individuals we may view the commemorative quilts and take in the anniversary concerts, or even sit glued to CNN, but as a nation we must necessarily look to the president for resonance, listening for his rededication and renewal of our commitment to this war that began last year on Sept. 11. I hope we hear it. That would surely give Americans something to think about on Sept. 12.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Diana West