Teaching National Memory On the Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

At the Jersey shore over Labor Day Weekend, two newspaper items sparked my interest and raised questions. One was an announcement in the local free weekly of an event Remembering 9/11 at a branch of the public library.  No surprise there; what institution is missing the occasion to memorialize the events of that day?  But the description caught my eye: The program is designed for children. If they’re children, they don’t remember 9/11 anyway.  No one under age 10 was born yet.  The audacity of the project to provide children with pseudo-memories of an event they did not experience was striking.

As the date draws near of the tenth anniversary the attacks, I wonder how teachers are handling the inevitable uptick in nationalist propaganda.  Specifically, another newspaper article–this one in the NY Times–made me wonder whether anyone will have the occasion (or the stomach) to bring to the discussion the near-coincidence of the anniversary with the impending U.N. vote regarding the status of Palestinian statehood, scheduled for September 20.  The article indicates that the U.S. is seeking to delay the vote in order to forestall the political fallout of either of its options: voting to approve (unlikely) or casting a veto vote (very likely).  As our ritual of national memory compels a corresponding amnesia about the role of U.S. foreign policy in galvanizing anti-Western sentiment among Arabs and Muslims, the prospect of an American veto and the subsequent backlash against the U.S. among Arabs and Muslims would be an inconvenient reminder.  It would also represent an undesirable counter-narrative to the one emerging last week from Libya, which is being trumpeted as a triumph of U.S. diplomacy and intervention.  In other words, I wonder whether radical teachers are finding ways to teach the acts of national memory being performed throughout the coming weeks in critical relation to the existing conditions of the present?

By James Davis

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