Commentary Magazine


The Purpose of 9/11

Taken together as a unified whole, 9/11 was the most successful single act of deliberate mass murder in the history of the world—and had things gone a bit differently with Flight 93 and the plane slamming into the Pentagon, it might have been the most startling effort at national decapitation in world history as well. When we talk about the thousands of children who grew up without mothers and fathers, we somehow neglect to understand that these were the orphans of murder, and we know that murders are the most insidous acts on earth, that the scars they leave are often poisonous and continue to threaten the health of the survivors. One of the 9/11 stories I know is about a young father of three whose grief-damaged parents crowded his widow so profoundly that she fled from them and denied them access to the children; they sued her for visitation and lost. None of the adults in this incredibly sad tale was bad or cruel or hostile; it was that finding a normal way to be after the murder was impossible for all of them. When I think about the damage done by 9/11, I think of them and the pain they must be in today. The purpose of 9/11 was to make the entirety of the United States feel as they felt and feel. That didn’t happen, though to be sure, our politics and our culture grew startlingly poisonous in its wake, and the evident desire of many to blame their American antagonists for 9/11 in part or in whole is an odd and sad mark of the enduring effectiveness of the attack.