Service of Memorials

September 14th, 2010

Categories: Anniversaries, Appreciation, Consistency, Gratitude, Memorials, Memory, Tradition

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Many remembered and honored the victims of terrorism on the 9th anniversary of September 11 this weekend. The outpouring of emotion and media coverage in the New York City area was poignant.

A friend asked me, “Why are we making such a big deal over 9/11, when,” he noted, “nobody did or does about World War II where so many more people suffered and died–or over other wars for that matter?”  So I decided to share my point of view.

This memorial recognition, while related to the topic of patriotism that I wrote about  in “Service of Independence Day,” is different. It has to do with respect and gratitude.

Back to my friend’s words: I think his impression depends on how you define “big deal” and “nobody” and how people honored their war dead in the past and are comfortable expressing emotion today.

stvincentdepaul2As a child, I attended a yearly memorial mass with my father at the French church, St. Vincent de Paul in New York City. Dad, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war who escaped, was French. In the back of the church, dressed in military uniform, musicians blew trumpets and horns mid-service, so loud that most jumped in their seats, startled even if they anticipated the alarm. The church was always full.

That was largely the extent to which Dad shared his war experience with me, although it scarred his life and his family’s.

normandy-beach2I visited Normandy a few years ago and couldn’t face the cemeteries with thousands of crosses and stars of David and I didn’t know one of those fallen soldiers. Instead, I marveled at Normandy Beach-so barren with not a bush or tree to hide behind. I was awestruck when I saw, in three dimensions, how exposed those soldiers were. You’ve seen the soldiers jump off the boats into enemy gunfire in movies and vintage newsreels. My husband’s uncle landed at that beach and survived. Just imagine.

There are over 58 thousand names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Other memorials, such as Holocaust Museums or Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, attract millions yearly from around the world.

So why does one horrific event that exterminated a few thousand continue to pull on our heartstrings and how come we recognize these dead, almost a decade later, from what was equivalent to a battle more than a war, with the same fervor as the year after? The raw wound might be because the act broke all rules of war; attackers victimized innocent citizens and involved no military forces. We are more vocal and emotional than our forebears where stiff upper lip was the fashion. And, I think, we are still shocked by the sheer below-the-belt, horrific ramifications of it all.

What do you think?

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5 Responses to “Service of Memorials”

  1. Frank Paine Said:

    I have to admit that I have a strong emotional reaction to 9/11. During the event, I was three blocks from ground zero. Since I am writing this, it is obvious that I am not one of those who lost their lives. Nevertheless, not a day goes by even now that I don’t think about that attack, and see the image of the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. I saw it live, not on TV, and believe me, the live view was much more dramatic.

    I think that the reason for the reaction that your friend is noting is mainly that a large number and proportion of the people working in the WTC were of a generation that have no memory of WW II. Even many of their parents have little or no memory of it. Many do not even remember Vietnam, which is very much part of my make-up, as I served in the Army during that period (though not in the war zone). And one interesting side issue is the terribly unattractive sense of entitlement exhibited by many of the victims’ families. I truly sympathize with their life situations, but the monetary demands have been absolutely appalling, and in extraordinarily bad taste.

    I think the answer may be that simple.

    I’d like to add, though, that there were many thousands of people who were present in the area, though they did not lose their lives. I plead guilty to a conflict of interest here, but one of the things that has puzzled me is the relative lack of attention to those who, like me, were present, but did not suffer fatally. I know from talking to many others like myself that the emotional impact was enormous, and in many cases, life changing. Go figure, as a friend of mine likes to say…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Frank,

    I think that we are just beginning to recognize and to address the impact of war on the warriors, so it will be a while for the secondary people, who are also seriously affected with nightmares and breakdowns, to get an ounce of official attention.

    I heard a radio interview on Saturday with a bartender whose business, like yours, was in the thick of things. The host invites him on every Saturday and I usually find him annoying and trite. He could barely speak of 9/11. You could hear that he was about to break down with every question and the host had to carry the conversation like a game of tennis against a backboard.

    A French first cousin showed me some photos of my father from before the war. He was the nutty, carefree one doing silly things before the camera. The man I knew was nothing like this and for good reason.

    I wasn’t around during the war, yet because it affected my family, it’s a period in which I have enormous interest and about which I feel compassion. There are those who feel this way about the Civil War. I hate to think that you have to be there to be in awe–what about the rest of this country vis a vis 9/11–not including Washington DC and Pennsylvania where the terrorists also struck? What about learning from the misakes of others by reading history? “Mash” in movies and on TV was a success with millions who had nothing to do with and weren’t alive during the Korean War.

  3. P. J. Blake Said:

    Politically incorrect as it may seem, I’m inclined to be sympathetic to your friend’s questioning of why such an uproar over 9/11.

    I lost two acquaintances as a consequence of the radical Moslem attack on the World Trade Center. I often visited and knew the buildings well. I have also served in the military and been under bombardment. I didn’t like either, nor do I like wars.

    Shortly after 9/11, a close German friend, someone whose family had been active in the German underground during World War II, and was close enough to speak openly to me about the attack, reminded me of the allied attack in 1945 on Dresden, which killed at least 20 times as many civilians as were killed on 9/11, and destroyed one of Western Civilization’s most beautiful cities. (Neither the World Trade Center nor the Pentagon was beautiful by any stretch of imagination.) For what, the war was already won? Revenge. Churchill wanted to punish the Germans.

    At least the attack on 9/11 served a clear purpose, and achieved it far more successfully than anybody dreamed possible. A war between fervid Christians and fervid Moslems has been going on now for almost 13 centuries. It is a Holy War – the worst, most vicious and unsparing kind of war. It was, of course, an attack carried out under rules very different from western rules of wars, but then why should people who are not westerners observe western rules?

    The passions raised by the attack provoked an hysterical reaction in this country, which caused us to engage in hopeless, as presently being fought, and still continuing ground wars in the middle east. These, so far, have cost many more innocent lives than were lost on 9/11. Our response has also had an immeasurably damaging impact on the solvency of our country, our international standing, and integrity of our political institutions. Much of the civilized world always thought us to be buffoons; now they are more convinced than ever.

    I fully agree that mourning the loss of loved ones is not only absolutely right but very necessary. But, I vehemently dislike seeing how this terrible disaster has been used, as it has been in recent weeks, to fan the passions of our people into hating ever more.

    We remain at war, weaker in moral fiber, material wealth, economic capacity and the quality of our human resources than before. But it is a war we have neither decided to win nor to lose. As a consequence, we grow weaker and our enemies grow stronger daily.

    I intensely dislike war, but I do recognize that it can be a necessary evil. Either we should totally destroy the forces opposing us using every means at hand, fair or foul, no matter how destructive, or as a national policy, cease being involved in any way with the Moslem world.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    P.J.,

    I realize that of all your thoughts this is the least important, but I start with asking you why you think that the rest of the world considers us buffoons. I don’t. Oh, the Ugly Americans among us swaggered around the world in an embarrassing way when our chips were up [rather than down as they currently are], but that was just a few, not all of us.

    If there are deaths of just a few people by tainted medicine or food, we look into and stop the cause. The FDA is supposed to guard us from drugs that cause bigger negative reactions than positive ones. I don’t think that you can quantify the seriousness of 9/11 by the relatively small number of people affected as compared to the impact of other repercussions of war.

    Regarding Dresden, Churchill was obviously way out of line. No doubt the same rush of adrenalin that affects warriors, Moslem or otherwise, impacted his decision to crush that city like a cigarette butt. Because an ally did it doesn’t make it right or excuse 9/11.

    You pose a scary scenario–that we either annihilate Moslems or remove ourselves from their vision. I believe in middle grounds and compromise. We have to avert those centuries of historic combat and cool the fanatic forces and rhetoric in this country while enlightened, civilized Moslems work on their extremists. I believe in “never say never.”

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    The last bad experience is not only the most painful, but that which most people will remember. It’s little more than simple population mathematics. As in the case of the September 11 incident, the sudden annihilation of over 2,000 innocent people, not to speak of the billions of dollars in damage, greatly increases the magnitude of the event. Assuming no one gets stupid enough to snuff out life with nuclear weapons, history will repeat itself. World War II starred Nazis and super cruel Japanese; Korea & Vietnam, Communists. Now Islam has emerged as chief villain. No sense in annihilating them since it’s not only impossible, but impractical. Their venom will recede in time. Who enters the stage next is anyones guess and it probably won’t take all that long to find out.

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