I was in my first semester teaching at UNC. I had a young child – about to turn 1 – at home. I was in my office early, preparing for class (SOCI 10, Introduction to Sociology), when Ted Mouw came to my door. “Hey, did you hear, a plane hit the World Trade Center.”
We walked together over to the Student Union to watch CNN with the students and faculty who gathered. As the magnitude of what had happened became clear, I went home to be with my wife and son, but felt I had to return that afternoon to teach my class, which ironically was on “Contention and Conflict in Modernity.” The students wanted me to be authoritative; I couldn’t. One wanted the U.S. to go blow things up; another wanted us to respond “in peace.” It wasn’t yet clear that this was a foreign attack, and one student who aspired to be an FBI agent noted that our last act of domestic terrorism was the product of far-right militias (Oklahoma City).
It remains interesting to me that 9/11 is marked by time, whereas Oklahoma City is marked by place.
To be sure, the dreadful attacks of 9/11 did change history and American, as well as world, culture and politics. But they did so because of the discursive growth they produced. As Foucault teaches us, discourse grows up around wounds in the same way scar tissue does, and in this case we’ve experienced an autoimmune disorder. The scar is now the bigger problem, and honoring the original wound should mean reinvigorating a commitment to democracy, human rights, freedom–all the things it hasn’t meant in the last seven years.
I made an extra donation to my presidential candidate this morning in honor of the thousands who died on 9/11/01 and the unspeakable torture, death, and waste that the authoritarian reaction has brought. May they end soon.