Commentary Magazine


Draining 9/11 of Meaning

Wilfred M. McClay, a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, has published an essay about the commemoration of 9/11 in National Affairs that is, in a word, magnificent. (It works in tandem with the wonderful Edward Rothstein essay in the New York Times to which I linked on Saturday.) Both concern the conversion of a crime, an act of war, and an act of mass murder into a meaningless “tragedy” drained of national or ideological or existential ramifications. McClay:

If one were talking only about the tragically lost lives of some 3,000 individuals and nothing else — as if their lives had been lost in a single giant plane crash or auto accident, or as the result of a random psychopathic act — there would be no way of justifying the lavish expense of or the political drama surrounding this memorial. What makes September 11th worthy of public memorializing is that it was not just a tragedy in the lives of these individuals and their families. It was an event that, like all great historical events, cannot be understood if viewed only through the eyes of those who experienced it. But when a spokesman for New York mayor Michael Bloomberg explained his decision to exclude all clergy from the tenth-anniversary observance, he emphasized the mayor’s view that the service should stay focused on the families of the victims. This view is sadly, and ominously, myopic.

Read McClay’s essay. And weep.