Monday, September 12, 2011


I seem to have spent a lot of my time defending America to my fellow Europeans, and with good reason. The attitude expressed against Americans is one of loathing in the face of American heavy-handedness- they are self-centred, ignorant to the rest of the world, taking what they want whilst condemning other nations for war crimes, stomping into our countries and terrorising us with their franchises and television. Let's not forget that many European couuntries did exactly the same not so long ago. It was called colonialism. Lately, I've been reading up on my own country's despicable actions towards Ireland (amongst many, many others) and how they dealt with the potato famine over there. So Europeans may well take a sanctimonious and disapproving approach to America's politics, but it wasn't so long ago they were up to similar sort of stuff. Let's also not forget that globalization can only occur following a philosophy of demand and supply. You can't bitch about America 'forcing' Burger King on us when we basically are all gagging for the Summer BBQ Whopper and onion rings. Europe is like a pathetic slag, staggering home in one cheap stiletto, throwing up into her own bargain basement push-up bra, screeching "he got me drunk!". You got yourself drunk. You may have been facilitated, but you did it to yourself.

Having said that, and I know that I am a day late with this pondering, but one thing about American culture (a fairly recent addition to America culture) I just cannot physically stomach, is the reaction to 9/11. Here we go, another year, another saccharine round of Facebook statuses and pop prayers. People utterly unconcerned with world events and the monstrosities of the world we live in have suddenly developped big, watery-eyed hearts and self-effacing voices. Where were you when it happened? How did YOU feel? Because it often seems that American society is based on the YOU. How did the tragedy make YOU personally feel? Not what consequences does it have for our society or our economy or our community make-up, but how have YOU, important YOU, digested this event, and are you feeling bad enough about it?

It has been said over and over again, and let's face it, nothing anyone ever says is going to change the way the whole nation have chosen to deal with this human tragedy, but: is America not aware of the absolute horrors it has wreaked the world over? "Yeah, I get that, but it doesn't take away from what happened on 9/11," the American you're discussing it with might drawl casually. No. You're right. It doesn't. But why don't you have a bit more respect for the world you live in and the world you inhabit, and stop throwing your sobs in everyone's faces, when you've drowned out other countries' sobbing YOU have caused?

It's true that when 9/11 occured, it was one of those jaw-dropping moments, where you feel overwhelmed with sadness and terror and anger at what has happened. For Americans, because it happened in their backyard. For Europeans, because it made us all think: "America is not infallible. If this can happen in AMERICA, in AMERICA of all places, what the HELL is going to happen to the rest of us?". And yet we forget that the British Isles has suffered internal IRA terrorism attacks for many decades now. We forget about ETA in the Basque country. We indulge America's paranoia and gratuitous self-pity and romanticised sorrow, forgetting about WW1 and Nazi Germany, forgetting about Kosovo and the destruction of the Balkans and the troubles in Northern Ireland. We forget that we, Europe, as a continent, have been touched by all of this in the last 100 years: two world wars, terrorism, regional warfare, all within our own tiny continent, whilst America has yet to suffer anything of the kind. Perhaps there it is, that which is so guiltily grating - the idea that the world has suffered at the hands of the bestiality of what mankind is capable of, and yet somehow America has escaped this fate, whilst having no qualms regarding imposing the fate on others. No army has reached American soil in recent history. No terror of foreign dominance has lapped at America's shores. Perhaps this is where the hysteria concerning 9/11, the cinematic proportions of the emotion bestowed on this one event, a decade later, comes from. In the same way that so many Americans you meet cling to a particular nationality ("I'm Irish", or "I'm Polish") to procur themselves some wispy sense of identity in a grander scheme, perhaps this attachment to the memory of 9/11 is burrowed deeper into the American psyche than we (or even they themselves) realize: perhaps to hold firmly onto the terror of 9/11, as opposed to remembering it but moving on, is to give themselves that which they have never had - a sense of victimhood ("see! We're not just bad guys! We can be hard done by too!") which draws them closer to being a nation with a past. America, the youngest country in the world in many ways, through 9/11, now has a richer history, a history that could only be fully complete with a chapter on "Suffering".

I'm sure that Americans do still feel some fear. But really? Do they? Do they live with daily fear of a terrorist attack? I find it very difficult to believe that the vast majority of Americans are sitting in their houses, paralysed with panic and anguish at the prospect of terrorism striking them down. I find it difficult to understand because there were the 7/7 terrorist bombs in London too, but I don't know a single British person who now lives with an under-lying concern of terrorism. It doesn't even cross my mind when I've been on the underground. Granted, the casualties in London were ''only'' of 52 people, but I'm fairly sure the American reaction would have been the same, had the death toll been 52 or close to 3,000, as it was for 9/11. And 52 or 3,000: what does it matter? Deaths are deaths. Deaths by terrorism, are deaths by terrorism.

Still - to those families who lost someone on that fateful day, I sincerley wish them strength in finding peace in themselves, because no matter what analysis we throw on it, it WAS a terrible thing. I'd also like to say that I hope I haven't hurt any feelings. These are, after all, only my personal ramblings, and like most of my ideas, aren't particularly fully-formed. Not being American myself, it is very possible I haven't grasped the true emotion behind 9/11. Unfortunately, as for all of us on a multitude of topics, I have only the media and my own instincts to rely on.

If any American readers care to share their thoughts, then feel free!


  1. You already know my feelings on this subject so I won't rehash them here too much.

    However, I will add one more thing, a lot of the events you mentioned (outside of 7/7) were things that weren't complete surprises. Yes, no one necessarily knew when/where an IRA attack would take place, but it wasn't pure surprise or shock when it did happen. People knew something was up before both World Wars. You get the picture. 9/11? Not so much. Yes, the US government did have some intelligence on it that they ignored/didn't release, and we can discuss the conspiracy theories surrounding this all day and night, but the average American hadn't the slightest clue it would happen. So of course we're going to talk about the shock, the terror, where we were, etc. My mother can still tell you when, where, and how she felt when she learned JFK was shot, but does anyone scrutinize that? No. So if Americans feel the need to remember where they were that day, how they felt, and their reaction, no one should criticize that.

    The media is one thing. And I'm sure their focus on the events will eventually fade, but it may never fade in the minds and hearts of many Americans. I'm the last person you'll see posting a Facebook status or a blog on the day or proclaiming "I'm proud to be an American", but I'll never forget how I felt that day or where I was. And if people ask me, I will tell them.

  2. I see your point Shannon, and I would have agreed with you to a certain extent except for this line: "So if Americans feel the need to remember where they were that day, how they felt, and their reaction, no one should criticize that."? Really?

    Another thing I don't understand, is you say: "Yes, the US government did have some intelligence on it that they ignored/didn't release, and we can discuss the conspiracy theories surrounding this all day and night". As you know from our conversations in Val, I don't particularly agree with the conspiracy theories. But how can such a big part of the nation's emotion be placed on remembering 9/11, whilst the withheld information be largely ignored?

  3. Remind me never to try sharing my experience with you. I don't think the stories have to be in the news or announced to others. I used the word "remember". I didn't say "go proclaim to the world". What's so wrong with remembering? Should I criticize my mother for remembering JFK? Or my grandmother for remembering the Great Depression? Or my grandfather for remembering and continually sharing the same war stories? You can criticize the media all you want, but criticizing an individual American? That's a bit harsh. How do you know you wouldn't feel the same way if you were in my shoes?

    And believe me, we don't ignore the fact that information was kept a secret. Why else would the terror alert level constantly be jumping all over the place? Because the government fears being put in the same position again. In fact, we might actually talk more about this issue throughout the year than the events of 9/11 itself.

  4. And you know I have no qualms in criticizing the States or Americans. But this is one thing (outside the attention the media gives it) that I can't criticize. And when someone else does, especially someone who's not American, I will take offense, and I will defend it. You're entitled to your own opinion, but it's something I will take personally.

  5. Shannon, I think we'll leave it there, considering that nothing we say to each other at this stage will be anything we haven't already rehashed around the kitchen table, with me picking holes in your government's role in this murky affair, and you defending it.

    I'll apologize for having written something that perhaps didn't take into account proximity (both physical and emotional) to the topic, which has perhaps left me with an all too clinical view of reactions and events. As I stated, and as I will re state, I didn't mean any offense, simply to write down my own musings.

    Just as you have made me think about my opinions on this (and I've thought about it a lot over the past few days....was I wrong? Do I not get it?) I'd like you to have a think about something you have said. If you're so tuned in to what people may or may not take personally, you might with retrospect appreciate my horror at reading this line: "And when someone else does, especially someone who's not American, I will take offense, and I will defend it." Noble words, for such an ignoble idea - that despite having lived here in Europe for 5 years, and despite having enjoyed the freedoms given to you by Europeans in which to explain your nation's quirks and foibles, despite having gladly taken the freedom to express your opinions and ideas from a different vantage point, you would deny Europeans that same right. In a way, it is cruelly representative of a bigger idea. I'll let you imagine what that bigger idea might be.