One of the most powerful ways of perpetuating and strengthening any given ideology is to gain control over the calendar and the ways in which people mark the passage of time, remember past events, and celebrate sacred moments. Thus, for example, Christendom took over the sacred days of paganism and converted them to Christian festivals (Christmas, Easter, and so on). Then, in our own time, global capitalism has taken over the sacred days of Christianity and converted them into festivities of consumption and debt accumulation (and has done the same with most of the sacred days of the Nation State as well).
On any day that is marked as sacred — or designated as a moment to remember some past event — it is worth recalling that some things are being remembered, while other things are being forgotten. Certain factions always have a vested interest in shaping our memory in this way, and they also happen to have the influence to impose their narration of history onto us.
Take today. September 11th. 9/11. What momentous event occurred on this day?
Well, the truth is that more than one momentous event has occurred on this date over the course of history. On September 11, 1973, Pinochet’s coup overthrew the democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende. During his subsequent years of rule, between 9,000-30,000 people were murdered or “disappeared”, tens of thousands more were tortured or imprisoned, and hundreds of thousands experienced “situations of extreme trauma.”
Given the massive heart-breaking loss triggered by the events of September 11, 1973, one might think that it would be worth marking every 9/11 with some sort of remembrance ceremony. However, this did not happen, nor will it be remembered in this way. Why? Because Pinochet’s coup was backed by the CIA, his reign was sustained by the American government, his torturers were trained by American officers, and his death-dealing economics (which crushed the people of his nation, in order to sell their resources to outside corporations) was directed by American economists (Milton Friedman personally communicated with Pinochet and encouraged him to stay true to free-market capitalism and not get distracted by the sufferings of the Chilean people).
Therefore, those with the power and resources to direct our public stories and our narrations of history — those who create the special days we mark on our calendars — have ensured that 9/11 remains a day when this event is erased from history. Instead of being a day of remembrance, it is a day of forgetting. Forget Allende. Forget Pinochet. Forget the destruction of democracy in Latin America. Forget the death-dealing ways in which America and the rest of the West have treated the rest of the world. Lord knows, the memory of those things might inspire some folks to fly planes into buildings (although, I should note, I believe they would be wrong to do so).
However, nine years ago, some people did fly planes into buildings and this is what we are commanded to remember today. This is a much better option — America, the innocent victim is born! Yet, rising above the ash, she is still willing to sacrifice of herself in order to graciously bring freedom and wisdom (McDonald’s and Coca-Cola) to the rest of the world. America, the long-suffering hero. America, our Dark Knight.
What is interesting, is that the year when all this went down is usually removed from the vocabulary. Thus, people refer to “September 11th” or “9/11” instead of referring to “September 11th, 2001” or “9/11/01”. In this way, the events of that day gain a sort of timelessness and enter into a process of eternal recurrence. The removal of the year, brings the events closer to us and it makes it feel as though those events just happened a moment ago. Not only does this heighten the emotional manipulation that spectacles of remembrance produce, it also conveniently helps us to forget everything that has happened since then. In this way, we remember the American who unjustly suffered and die. We remember the heroism of the NYFD.
What we don’t remember are the 97,767 to 106,703 civilians who have died violent deaths in Iraq since the Americans invaded. Nor do we remember the 14,000 to 35,000 civilians who have died thus far in Afghanistan (not to mention the untold numbers left wounded, disabled, childless, orphaned, or traumatized in both those nations). We also don’t remember that countless number of innocent people kidnapped and tortured by American soldiers since 9/11 — in Bush’s Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo, and in Obama’s “super-Guatanamo” prison at the airforce base in Bagram (the picture above is not take from Abu Ghraib under Bush, it is taken from Bagram under Obama).
What we don’t remember is that the American government has invested $1,078,552,000,000 (and counting) into these wars. This is tax-payers’ money, but we don’t remember how much these wars are contributing to the economic crisis in America, to budget cuts in everything from affordable housing, publicly-funded school systems, roads, street lighting and social services. What we don’t remember is that the Bush administration lied to start these wars and the Obama administration has lied about ending them.
So, today we will be reminded to “never forget” the events that happened nine years ago. However, the command to remember certain events in certain ways, to the exclusion of all else, is actually a very powerful way of producing mass forgetfulness.