The Last Refuge

The other day I received an email from my employer inviting me to attend a ceremony described as being held “in recognition of the 20th anniversary of Patriot Day.” This is not the first email of this kind I’ve received from the university, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed this curious wording. The twentieth anniversary of Patriot Day?

I’ve never liked the use of the term Patriot Day for the anniversary for the 2001 attacks. I’ve never been comfortable with 9/11 as the term to use to refer to the day itself: I think making it easier to refer to that day, giving it a short, catchy brand name, makes it easier to instrumentalize it, to use it whip up nationalist fervor. It stands in the way of understanding the events of the day, their causes, and the way they were used as an excuse to institute improper policies and start wars. And I’ve never been comfortable remembering the day simply. It was a bad day for me as a New Yorker and as a person–my sister lost her husband in the north tower, I spent the day trying to get back downtown from the Bronx and then going around to local hospitals looking for and not finding my brother-in-law–and along with those memories of that bad day and the days after, I have the memories of everything people have done in its name since then. (I wrote something for the local paper about this on the anniversary in 2011.)

Calling the anniversary of that day Patriot Day proudly reprises the Bush administration’s approach to the events of that day, and it’s why I’ve never liked it. Referring to the day itself as Patriot Day in this announcement just strikes me as perverse. It was a day. People got out of bed, had breakfast, got coffee, got on planes, went to work, died for reasons and for no reason. My brother-in-law was patriotic; that’s not why he died. He died because he went to work. He didn’t die so neocons could get their wars and oil profiteers could get their profits. He didn’t die for Halliburton or for Blackwater or for the other people who make money off of war. Two decades later, these two wars prosecuted in patriotism’s name are finally over. As we watch the evacuation unfold and the blame be misassigned, as we hear the lies about who and what we care about and why we were there, maybe for once we can stop pretending.

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