The Language of Terror

I’ll take “September 11,” for it’s specificity, for its weight, its extra syllables that give me time to think, to grieve, to blame.

I, like many Americans, spent a good bit of yesterday thinking back to that day four years ago when everything changed. I watched it again on television, reliving the horror and sense of disbelief as the twin towers collapsed, as the passengers on Flight 93 rushed the cockpit, as the Pentagon exploded.

We have come, collectively, to call that day “9/11.” “Nine-eleven” doesn’t sound like what it was, doesn’t sound like 3,000 people died horrific deaths, doesn’t sound like crazed Islamist extremists attacked our country and everyone in it. It was so horrible that we had to come up with a cold, hard number to name it. How else to name the horror that has no name?

Me? I prefer to think of that day as “September 11th.” That’s a date positive, a time, a day, tangible, calling out for us to try to understand, wrap our brains around the inconceivable. I suggest that “September 11th” is a much fitter name for the event than “9/11.”

We’ve done it before. Independence Day is “July Fourth” or “the Fourth of July.” It’s not “7/4.” We’ve had a “V-E Day” and a “V-J Day” to commemorate the European and Japanese ends of World War II. We’ve got “Veteran’s Day,” not “11/11.”

Perhaps our inability to call September 11th what it is stems from the fact that the terrorists won. They changed our whole culture, how we travel, what we think when we look up into a clear blue sky and see the jetliner that always seems too close or on a weird flight path, destined for destruction and death. That’s “9/11.”

“9/11” takes the hurt away a little, gives a little distance from the terrible sight of people leaping to their deaths from the World Trade Center. It helps keep away the thought of those people caught in stairwells as the buildings fell, of firefighters and first responders suddenly crushed under tons of falling concrete and metal.

But “September 11th” better captures the way we rallied, the way New Yorkers and Americans stood up, shell-shocked and awed, and helped each other. The way the nation responded, joined together, the way we remember together a day none of us will ever forget.

So you can keep “9/11,” with its wands and metal detectors, its enemy combatants, its false justification for an immoral war. You can have your “9/11” that provides justification for eviscerating the Federal Emergency Management Administration, for bankrupting the nation, for covering up monumental stupidity and meanness at the top levels of government.

I’ll take “September 11,” for it’s specificity, for its weight, its extra syllables that give me time to think, to grieve, to blame.


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