Today, the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, was marked by a copious amount of media attention. This comes months after the release of two 9/11-inspired feature films. The amount of hype during this solemn anniversary hides the fact that America has barely changed since that day. It also prevents us from learning the true lessons of Sept. 11.
In some respects, the media chose a path of exploitation when it comes to coverage and portrayals of 9/11. This year, attention on the anniversary began more than a week ago, presumably to attract an audience still disturbed by the relatively recent destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon.
As part of this media buildup, ABC decided to air a docudrama about pre-Sept. 11 terrorism investigations that has been questioned for its accuracy. Docudramas similar to the ABC special, along with “United 93” and “World Trade Center,” the two movies based on the attacks, present a dramatized view of that day. These productions, released so soon after the event itself, may hijack history through fictional portrayals of an event that to this day is still not fully understood.
Moviegoers may have walked out of theaters after seeing “United 93” feeling as if they completed some patriotic duty or paid appropriate respects to those killed in the attacks. In reality, their patriotism is hollow. These portrayals, as well as obsessive media coverage, do little to inspire Americans to proactively better their country. Instead, they instill and promulgate a culture of fear.
This media inundation highlights our nation’s inability to evolve beyond the knee-jerk reactions that followed the attacks. The amorphous war on terror has shifted its focus away from the most serious outside threats facing America. Citizens continue to live in fear of terrorism, while they face threats such as automobile accidents and obesity that are, statistically, more dangerous. Political infighting between Democrats and Republicans has hurt Americans and prevented much real legislative action, a far cry from the image of members of Congress united in singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol five years ago.
There is perhaps no better example of the misguided focus on this anniversary than the passing of another disaster’s anniversary only weeks ago. The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina still affects GW students, not to mention the thousands of people who have still been unable to rebuild. With the national focus on terrorism in August 2005, federal, state and local authorities were unable to protect their own citizens from a predicted disaster.
The media and public obsession with Sept. 11, especially manifested this year, merely continues to perpetuate a society that is reactive to certain threats but ignores other pressing issues. While it is necessary to memorialize those lost five years ago, a new focus is necessary to shift from a politics of fear to a politics of hope that can use the positive lessons from Sept. 11 to create a stronger America.
This message resonates especially strongly with many GW students, who are preparing to assume their role as productive working members of society. Rather than dwelling on the attacks, our generation should seek to remember the sense of unity, charity and resolve that existed on that tragic day. Students our age should seek to assume jobs and responsibilities that will allow America to fix nagging domestic problems and adopt a smarter foreign policy that will keep America safe.
The alternative to this positive outlook is a return to politics as usual for the past five years. Political bickering, public fear and an empty rhetoric of patriotism must be replaced by proactive service and an open debate on how we can use the lessons of Sept. 11 to improve our nation.
While many will indeed spend their Sept. 11 glued to their televisions, watching CNN’s original coverage from this day five years ago, our nation and especially its young people must realize that this particular brand of memorializing sets a dangerous trend. The attacks of five years ago were a tremendous loss, but dwelling only on the past will be the biggest tragedy caused by that day. Our nation must instead move forward and strive to build a brighter future.