Ground Zero ceremonies miss mark, not unique

BBy Matt Neznanski

bOISE, Idaho (U-WIRE) – Americans have had a year to come to grips with the attacks of last September. During that time, we have heard many different explanations of terrorist motivation and debated the method and effectiveness of our retaliation.

On Wednesday, people across the country will mark the occasion with a variety of ceremonies. In New York, events include the reading of several historic speeches.

New York Gov. George Pataki will read the Gettysburg Address, New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey will read an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will read Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The Four Freedoms.”

Since the attacks, many have said that America will never be the same, that the U.S. is engaged in a battle unlike any other. Yet we respond a year later with speeches culled from American history concerning events that were much different than today’s struggles.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln responded to the loss of life in keeping the Union intact during the Civil War. The Declaration of Independence marked a break from the “tyranny” of King George, and concluded that people have the right to change government when it fails to meet their needs. FDR addressed the history of conflicts affecting the United States at home and justified its involvement in fighting aggressor nations a year before Pearl Harbor.

These documents bring to mind a turning point in American history. All of them offer guidance to the people of a world in crisis. All of them discuss a world, we are reminded, that is vastly different than the one in which we live. Above all, these documents make a case for maintaining the civil liberties of American citizens, liberties we have been asked to abridge under the mentality of a nation under siege.

Further, none of these address the fact that American civilians were the target of an attack by forces from within a multitude of nations. We still do not have closure; we still do not have a clear enemy. We still grasp at straws when finding our place in the conflict.

The reason for having a ceremony at all is to honor the dead and provide comfort for the living. There are eloquent people in America today who are able to address the issues that make this situation different from the past. Where are they?

Wednesday’s ceremonies will leave us with no insight, no sense of purpose, no perspective, and worse: no history of its own. Re-using historical speeches cheapens their original intent when they become band-aids for appeasing national distress.

Are we left with no unique words to mark the occasion, save for a long list of lost lives?

Matt Neznanski’s column originally appeared in the Boise State University’s The Arbiter on Sept. 9. Send comments to [email protected].