Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!

It’s 9/11 again… US Capitol Police patrol the “beacon on the hill” and roust homeless guys from their slumber. Seems a hedge in the Senate park isn’t the place to sleep on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Maybe some digital coder can find some meaning to the numbers 1191112… I know that I can find no meaning in having to sprint across a cross walk due to the oncoming… and speeding… Capitol Police armored car. Yes, once again we celebrate… remember… terrorist attacks.

While a great many have spent the last year going about their daily lives, I have spent the last year… like the last ten years writing the following phrase over and over:

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks,

Approximately, 50% of the reports I write have this phrase in the first paragraph, and 25% of my reports start out with this phrase. “9/11” is number that flows from my typing fingers like a smooth liquid. Easy numbers that are so simple, yet contain so much visceral reaction.

I have spent the last year writing and testifying before Congress on the lack of a coherent and unified homeland security strategy. I have researched and written on how the federal government communicates during national and homeland security crises, how the Department of Homeland Security may want to address criticisms of its 2010 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review prior to the upcoming issuance of the 2nd version in 2014, and how the federal government… the US Secret Service specifically… intends to secure the January 2013 presidential inauguration. When it comes to thinking about securing the nation… I spend a great deal of mental energy going “what the fuck does this mean?” and “how exactly do we secure the nation?”

The 9/11 anniversary, however, is when others take a moment and ponder the actions of a few Saudis and the resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a time to wonder how the world became so small, and how the United States joined the ranks of countries affected by significant international terrorist attacks. Granted, the United States has always had to deal with terrorism, but it had been of the domestic flavor… white supremacists, abortion clinic bombings, and anti-Zionism.

“Remembering 9/11” has joined the long list of political propaganda. I would argue that at the turn of the 22nd Century, “Remembering 9/11” will be as significant as “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain” is now. On February 15, 1898 the USS Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor. The US Navy ship was there to protect US interests during the Cuban War of Independence. US newspapers, especially newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, exaggerated and distorted information concerning the explosion and gave us a fantastic phrase… which is now used as a prime example of “yellow press.” Yellow press is a type of journalism that uses little research or facts, instead uses great headlines to sell more newspapers. This rally call of “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain” assisted in galvanizing the American public in supporting a war between the US and Spain. Later investigations into the explosion determined that the USS Maine was not sunk by a Spanish mine, but probably the result of a fire near its ammunition.

“Remembering 9/11” and “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain” may not be exact replicas, they are, however, very similar in the fact that both were used to rally the American public in reacting to events that led to war. Political language, goals, and ideas get coupled with calls for war.

It’s another day, another anniversary, another moment in collective memory that is both personal and public. Another event that the cable news channels will run information on remembering 9/11 over and over. Talking heads… wonks and former military officers… will discuss how security has changed… how much safer we may or may not be… the sound will be a loud roar for the next 12-18 hours. Then the anniversary of 9/11 will silently slip away replaced by something new tomorrow. It will be resurrected next year.

I imagine the 15th anniversary of 9/11 will see a spike in “remembering” followed by the 20th and maybe the 25th… eventually, though, “Remembering 9/11” will become like “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain”… a phrase and incident remembered by academics, nerds, and military buffs. That is the future of all catch phrases and events that “rock” nations and galvanize them for war. We… we Americans… will move forward.

President Nixon said on July 4, 1970 “We Americans are known throughout the world as a forward-looking people. The United States of America is in fact a symbol of progress, of hope, and of just and orderly growth.” In other words… this too shall pass.


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