Monday, September 11, 2006


[I didn't plan on writing about this, but what else could be posted today?]

Damn bin Laden. Not merely because of what he planned and executed five years ago, but because of when he executed it. We can't think of this date inconspicuously ever again.

I suppose, if we take as a given that the terrorists were determined to carry out their insidious plot and that they were crafty enough to succeed (or the government was too inept to stop them), that some day would have become the day of infamous reference. It just turned out to be September 11th.

Had the attacks occurred, say, May 3rd, 2001, I don't imagine the last five years would have been the same in regards to how referencing the date--"9/11"--came to be used. For example, I just don't envision the administration mentioning "5/3" ("five-three") with the same efficacy as "nine-eleven" and it's a simple matter of meter.

Think of the sound of "nine-eleven," with its accented syllable followed by an unaccented one followed by another accented one and closing on another unaccented one ("trochaic" meter, for what it's worth). "Five-three" (beyond sounding like describing the height of a not particularly tall person) is simply two accented syllables, and two syllables cannot carry the same impact as four for this usage. (Two work better for insults, epithets, profane exclamations, etc.)

Even "May 3rd" is only two syllables; "September 11th" is six, and although the first three don't follow the trochaic pattern (it shifts to iambic meter, with the second, fourth, and last syllables accented), it has a flow when spoken that "May 3rd" never could. There's just something about more syllables that grants power to the words when invoked in the reverent (and somewhat exploitative) context that "9/11" came to be used.

I'm not suggesting bin Laden ruminated on how the sound of the way the day would be pronounced in English was a factor in deciding when to coordinate the attacks. It's undoubtedly an abjectly fortuitous coincidence for those who use the term (particularly those who, for the lack of a better term, do so for their benefit. As disgusting as it is to say, to think no one has benefited from the attacks strikes me as overly naïve).

I'm sure some would think me the most depraved person in this country for considering such matters of semantics in regards to a day five years ago when thousands of people died. But I'm not talking about the events of the day; there's nothing more to be said about those than they were horrible.

I must make clear I didn't know anyone who died in the attacks. The closest I can get is I think I may know someone who knew someone, but even that is not the same as actually knowing a victim of the attacks. The more direct effect on me came later, and has been happening every day since, but the commemoration of the day it happened does not have the same impact on me as it does on those who were there, or who lost someone they knew. It just doesn't.

In my opinion, it insults those people who did lose someone to suggest it could be the same for me. I can, at best, try to imagine how I would feel if it had been someone I knew who died in the attacks, or how horrific to be someone trapped in the upper floors of the towers before they collapsed, but that's pretending when it comes down to it. It's empathetic, and that's worthwhile, but it's not the same. It's not fair for me to presume my empathy is as real as what they went through (and continue to go through).

I'm not putting myself in that position. I'm thinking about something else. Perhaps it's a defense mechanism to protect my emotions from what it would be like to contemplate the awful, by being academic and distant. My reaction may differ from that of others, but it is what it is; if I am a monster because of being somewhat analytical, pretending to have a different reaction would only hide that, not make me less of a monster.

What is not up for debate is that the media ensures it is practically not permitted to think about anything else today. Considering any other topic on this day each year will not be allowed for many decades. Perhaps that's exactly as it should be, honoring those who died; perhaps it's an oppressive sorrow that contibutes to keeping people in fear. Maybe all of the above, and maybe it should be all of the above.

After five years of thinking about it, today what I thought (for better or for worse) was how the sound of the specific words "nine" followed by "eleven" have a power they never had five years and one day ago, and how they will never be simple numbers ever again.

Damn bin Laden.

1 comment:

So, what do you think?