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Counter-Memory and the Politics of Loss After 9/11

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 03:23 By Henry A Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
Counter-Memory and the Politics of Loss After 911

 A poster with pictures of victims of 9/11 is displayed near ground zero in 2005. (Photo: Ashley Gilbertson / The New York Times)

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we once again witnessed nationwide displays of unity and mourning, though such tributes had to contend with a decade in which matters of memory and remembrance were more complicated, shaped as much by trauma, heroism, and tragic loss as by the realities of power, politics and war. Hopefully, we will learn that there were many tempered forms of patriotism and national unity that offered Americans an opportunity to engage more fully with a decade-long series of memories. Whenever we honor the victims and survivors of 9/11, we should not be reluctant to engage also in public dialogue about both the legacy and the politics that precipitated and emerged from the events that took place on that tragic day.

Remembering 9/11 is as much an exercise in retrieving counter-memories as it is a ritualistic exercise in traditional acts of remembrance. Counter-memory is wedded to justice and suggests a form of memory work in which the past is more open to public debate, more alive to the unseemly side of a crisis that pushes to the side, marginalizes or simply denies recollections that bespeak less our courage than our culpability. Such uncomfortable moments of consciousness provide the basis for a form of witnessing that refuses the warmongering, human rights violations, xenophobia, and the violation of civil liberties that take shape under the banner of injury and vengeance, resulting in the militarization and de-democratization of American society.

In retrospect, it is clear that the call for national unity offered no guarantees about the politics it might produce, but, more often than not, the appeal to pride and patriotism silences dissent, public debate and critical dialogue. What 9/11 made clear is that just memory requires those elements of counter-memory that challenge the official narratives of 9/11 in order to recover the most valuable and most vulnerable elements of democratic culture too often sacrificed in tragedy's aftermath. Now we need to seize upon the retrieval of innumerable forms of compassion, solidarity, courage and collective will that for a brief moment illuminated the best of what American democracy can become.

In the hours and days that bled out from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the unfolding sense of trauma and loss drew us together in a fragile blend of grief, shared responsibility, compassion, and a newfound respect for the power of  common purpose and commitment. The translation of such events into acts of public memory, mourning, and memorializing are ambivalent and deeply unsettling. We must recall that they do not only bring about states of emergency and the suspension of civil norms and order. They can, and did, give birth to enormous political, ethical and social possibilities. Yet, such enlightened moments proved fleeting. A society has to move with deliberate speed from the act of witnessing to the responsibility of just memorializing; in other words, to the equally difficult practice of reconfiguring what politics, ethics and civic engagement should mean after 9/11. On the tenth anniversary of that tragic day, our struggle to remember and reclaim those moments in good faith was constantly challenged, and in ways that few of us would dare to have imagined a decade later.

We have learned, and continue to learn, of the high cost of living in a society with an overabundance of violence and inequality and an impoverished supply of long-term commitments and permanent bonds. This is a market-driven society, a fast-paced society of consumers committed only to throwing caution to the wind, whose merits are measured in profit margins and the gross domestic product (GDP). As New York Times writer Stephen Holden stated, "the modern corporation [has become] a sterile Darwinian shark tank in which the only thing that matters is the bottom line."[1] As the United States increasingly produces social forms that too quickly exceed their use-by date, uncertainty and precarity contour every aspect of daily life. Under such circumstances, memory is often stripped of its responsibility to justice and becomes flat and self-serving, if not expendable, where inconvenient. As the gravity of loss is divorced from both the past and present, memory loses its claim upon social institutions, politics, democracy and the future. Daily experience in the age of instant pleasure, living for the moment and the compulsive pursuit of material self-interest no longer appears to be mediated by loss as a function of memory. Instead, memory is overtaken by either the more pressing demands of consumerism or the cruel reality of lost jobs, smashed hopes and hard-lived lives. In a society that increasingly disavows civic engagement, the web of human bonds is weakened through an emphasis on the unattached individual removed from civic life.

One consequence of this is the almost pathological disdain for community and public values, while any sense of the public good vanishes. In the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, we are witnessing "a weakening of democratic pressures, a growing inability to act politically, [and] a massive exit from politics and from responsible citizenship."[2] Politics is emptied of its democratic vitality as more and more Americans make an obsession out of creating wealth, dismiss the welfare state as a pathology, define government as the problem, and reduce popular culture to the trafficking of pain, humiliation, and spectacular violence. Under such circumstances, "loss tends to be an experience we are advised to 'get past.'"[3]

In the decade following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, it is clear that loss, memory and remembrance share an uneasy, if not unsettled, embrace. Remembrance can become dysfunctional, erasing the most important elements of history and trivializing what survives of the event through either crass appeals to an untroubled celebration of patriotism or a crass commercialization of 9/11 as an object to be treated as just another commodity for sale. But remembrance can also recover what is lost to this historical amnesia. It can produce both difficult thoughts, bringing forth not only painful memories of personal loss and collective vulnerability, but also new understandings of how specific events infuse the present and become a force for how one imagines the future, including, to quote Roger Simon, how "one imagines oneself, one's responsibility to others, and one's civic duty to a larger democratic polity and range of diverse communities."[4] Memory can be an instigator of both despair and hope, often in ways in which the division between desperation and hope becomes blurred. For instance, the spectacular shock and violence of 9/11 ruptured an arrogant and insular period in American history that had proclaimed the triumph of progress and the end of ideology, history and conflict, all the while imposing an unbearable experience of loss, grief, sorrow,and shock on large segments of the world's population. 

A decade later, this unprecedented tragedy imposes not only the noble burden of remembering the victims of the barbarous violence of 9/11, but also the question of what survives from that moment of intense pain and fear, when the very possibility of community, solidarity and compassion returned, however briefly, from exile. What does it mean to expand the experience of loss after 9/11 in order to suggest that what we witnessed for a short time in the days following the terrorist attack was a "crucial experiment in which the very possibility" of the social state, if not democracy itself, was once again open to discussion and debate?[5] I think it is fair to state that in the period immediately following 9/11, the American public was provided with a glimpse of what Marxist philosopher Etienne Balibar has called "the insurrectional element of democracy" in which "the very possibility of a community among humans" was put into high relief, while at the same time the very essence of democratic politics and the formative culture that made it possible appeared to hang in the balance.[6]

Mourning fused with a renewed sense of idealism immediately following that shocking moment in history. One can hear it in the words of a young man named Jedediah Purdy, who wrote that it has been "amazing to see how in these past few days we - who have been so used to living with our selves front and center - are suddenly all aware that a common condition comes first. We have not been flip, self-involved, needlessly sarcastic or focused on small divisions. We have all been looking for ways to help. All of us. That is new to us."[7] From the smoldering ruins of 9/11 emerged a host of civic values and a vibrant sense of national unity, along with a newfound sense of global solidarity. The French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed in banner headlines, "WE ARE ALL AMERICANS."[8]

Vulnerability elicited compassion rather than scorn, even as the galloping materialistic obsessions, rampant greed, anti-government rhetoric, and Gilded Age cruelty of the 1980's and 90's seemed to give way to notions of shared sacrifice and collective hope. For a short moment, the social as a democratic and communal register was embraced in both a public and an existential sense. The general contempt for community, public values, and public goods that gained in force and intensity since the Reagan era seem to pale next to a newfound sense of solidarity and the common good. Public values took precedence over private interests. Communal concerns were given priority over the materialistic concerns of the market and a fatuous celebrity culture. Public servants, especially the 9/11 firefighters and police officers, were praised for their unflagging endurance and unwavering commitment to saving lives. The government was viewed as a crucial resource for providing security in terms of both physical protection and crucial public services. The United States was warmly embraced by other nations for a moment, and its democratic ideals and spirit of leadership resonated with the deepest and most profound elements of an embattled global democracy.

Echoes of this lost idealism have resurfaced in the accounts of those public servants whose memories will be forever etched with the horrors and heroism of 9/11. One such story recounts, ten years since, how a sense of common purpose and shared idealism had returned, however briefly. It is told by former New York City firefighter Ray Pfeifer. Right after the Twin Towers fell, Pfeifer worked at the Trade Center site for seven months, amidst "a choking dust cloud - a brew of pulverized cement and known carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, PBS, and dioxin" - what he would later call a "toxic soup." Nine years later, he was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer that eventually spread to his bones.

"Doctors removed part of his leg, and hip and a kidney. Pfeifer's cancer has come back. When asked by a CBS news correspondent if he regretted his rescue efforts after 9/11, he replied that he'd do it again because he was searching for his buddies. "I had a good friend of mine's son ask me, 'Ray, are we ever going to find my dad?' Pfeifer said. 'This is what this kid said to me. And I think we gave a lot of closure to a lot of families.'"[9] What seems almost shocking in Pfeifer's statement is not only his stunningly brave sense of social responsibility, but the dignity and compassion he exhibits over the suffering of a child looking for his lost father. I say shocking because that period of idealism, that moment of hope and possibility following 9/11, soon came to an end as the Bush-Cheney regime pushed the United States into an abyss of militarism, fear, insecurity and failed sociality. David Simpson has persuasively argued that the Bush administration used the event as "a pretext for political opportunism and military adventurism [in which] in less than two years we went from the fall of the Twin Towers and the attack on the Pentagon to the invasion of Iraq, a process marked by propagandist compression and manufactured consent so audacious as to seem unbelievable, except that it happened."[10]

Our collective fall from grace is now well known. Instead of being a threshold to a different future and a register for a restored democratic faith, the decade following 9/11 became an era of buried memories  and monumentalization of what Joan Didion contemptuously called “fixed ideas.”[11] Rather than initiating a period of questioning and learning, the war on terror morphed into a war without end, producing abuses both at home and abroad, all of which resembled an unending fabric of illegality. America's status as a symbol of freedom that elicited worldwide respect was squandered, giving way to a culture of fear, mass hysteria and state secrecy. At the same time, the Bush administration waged war overseas, it unleashed ruthless market forces at home, along with a virulent propaganda machine in which public issues collapsed into private concerns, and the future - like the market that drove it - was detached from any viable notion of ethical and social responsibility. Finance capital replaced human capital; economics was detached from ethics; youth were viewed as a risk rather than at risk; and the formative culture necessary for a democracy collapsed into a rampaging commercialism, as citizens became defined exclusively as consumers and the notion of the social was increasingly viewed as a liability rather than as a strength.

Shared sacrifice, compassion for others and acting together for a common purpose as a necessary condition of political life turned out to be short-lived under the Bush-Cheney administration. As Frank Rich recently reminded us, "the president scuttled the notion on the first weekend after the attack, telling Americans that it was his 'hope' that 'they make no sacrifice whatsoever' beyond, perhaps, tolerating enhanced airline security. Few leaders in either party contradicted him. Bush would soon implore us to 'get down to Disney World in Florida' and would even lend his image to a travel-industry ad promoting tourism."[12] In the face of unimaginable loss, fear and insecurity, Bush urged the American public to get a grip and go shopping. That's not the worst of it. What then emerged in the last decade was an intensification of many anti-democratic forces that were only briefly interrupted with the outpouring of compassion and solidarity following the tragic events of 9/11. In many ways, as New York Times reporter Michiko Kakutani put it, "the New Normal [following 9/11] was very much like the Old Normal."[13]

In fact, the forces that had been undermining democracy since the 1980's appeared to receive new life under the Bush administration. These included:  the growing power of corporations in American politics; an intensified attack on unions; the ascendency of the military-security state; a persistent and growing racism, especially targeting immigrants and Muslims; the suppression of civil rights, especially under the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act; the rise of the punishing state, with its mass incarceration of people of color; the rise of a culture of surveillance and fear; the attack on the social state; the increasing privatization of public life; growing support for a cutthroat form of economic Darwinism and its celebration of cruelty; and the reformulation, under the Bush-Cheney regime, of politics as an extension of war, both abroad and on the domestic front. In a startling editorial published on December 31, 2007, The New York Times declared that in the years since 9/11, "lawless behavior has become standard practice," most evident in the attempt on the part of high-ranking government leaders "to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators."[14] The editorial went further, arguing that "[t]he White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that ... swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America's global image and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging of times."[15] The editorial ended with the chilling statement that, "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country."[16]

The New York Times editorial was simply suggesting what many people already knew. A post-9/ll celebration of public purpose, civic duty, and public servants had given way to a form of economic Darwinism in which government was viewed as the problem, individuals were responsible for their own plight and society did not exist. The elected government was losing its sense of public purpose, being reduced to serving the power of financial capital, on the one hand, and assuming the role of a punishing state, on the other. As the social state collapsed and people were left destitute, the punishing state emerged to deal with the consequences. More and more problems were now mediated and addressed less as social issues than as matters to be handled through what has been called a "governing through crime" complex.[17]

As we now face the aftermath of the damage wreaked by the Bush administration, it has become a widespread belief that social problems are caused by individual deficits and should be treated as disciplinary problems, just as the prison and its culture of punishment massively extends throughout our social foundations and cultural landscape. Or, as criminologist and author Michelle Brown puts it, the vocabulary and architecture of the punishing state now spreads, "[a]cross families, communities, schools, religion, the military, politics, the economy, and beyond, normalizing punishment, and 'governance through crime and fear.'"[18] As sociologist and writer Loic Wacquant argues, we have witnessed, in the last few decades, the rise of a punishing state that "offers relief not to the poor but from the poor, by forcibly 'disappearing' the most disruptive of them, from the shrinking welfare rolls on the one hand, and into the swelling dungeons of the carceral castle on the other."[19]

Within the last decade, America has taken a dire turn to the dark side and embraced a ruthless kind of moral Darwinism in which a survival-of-the-fittest logic and a cult-of-the-winner mentality legitimate a war of all against all and pernicious cynicism as the prevailing attitude toward everyday life.  We now live in a society driven by a hyped-up market fundamentalism that thrives on a culture of hardness to the point of cruelty. How else to explain the lack of public response over a Republican Congress that wants to tax the poor while refusing to raise taxes on the exorbitantly rich and hedge fund millionaires? The same Congress declares it is unwilling to provide disaster relief funds to first responders unless President Obama agrees to cut vital social programs. Economist Paul Krugman refers to the latter policy advocated by House majority leader Eric Cantor as a form of "policy blackmail - using innocent Americans as hostages," which, for the current government, has become standard operating procedure.[20]

How else can we explain the lack of moral outrage when the governor of Maine and the state legislature introduce a bill to loosen child labor laws, with one of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Rep. Bruce Bickford, defending the bill with the statement: "Kids have parents. Let the parents be responsible for the kids. It's not up to the government to regulate everybody's life and lifestyle."[21] Where is the public outrage in reaction to right-wing extremists in Congress who, as Noam Chomsky points out, use the debt crisis "to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and in general remaining barriers to corporate tyranny"?[22] What has happened to democracy in the United States when the American public barely blinks at a media story about 59-year-old James Richard Verone, who, unemployed and ill, robbed one dollar from a bank in Gaston, North Carolina, so he could get life saving medical care?[23] Evidently, remembrance of the profound sacrifice, civic courage, and unity displayed in the aftermath of  9/11 has given way to a hardening of the culture in the face of many who now struggle to survive and a turning away from others' suffering that does not augur well for either future generations or democracy itself.

Where is the political and moral outrage over a war based on false representations - a war in which the collateral damage is almost unimaginable - with more than 4,000 American soldiers having died and over 10, 000 having been wounded. In addition, "more than a million Iraqis have died [while]  there are 1.8 million refugees and 1.7 million internally displaced people."[24] Richard A. Clarke, former national security chief under George W. Bush, captures the full horror of the crimes committed by the Bush-Cheney administration in its attempts to hijack the events of 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. He writes: "We invaded a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attack on us, but had everything to do with the preconceived plans of a cabal in and out of our government. In the process, we killed 100,000, wounded many times more, and threw millions out of their homes. More Americans suffered violent deaths in Iraq than did on 9/11, and multiples more were scarred for life. Americans, including our troops, were lied to about Iraq's role in 9/11 and some marched to their death motivated by those lies."[25] George W. Bush did more than lie and behave badly. Paraphrasing Paul Krugman, Bush poisoned the memory of 9/11, allowing it to “become an occasion for shame.”[25A]

One symptom of the crisis of idealism we have lived through in the last decade is the refusal of the American public to confront its own vulnerability, misfortunes, and growing inequalities in income and wealth as part of a lost legacy of social justice, engaged citizenship, and democratic values. A dire consequence of this refusal is a present and future in which populations who were once viewed as facing dire problems in need of state interventions and social protections are now seen as a problem threatening society. This becomes clear when poverty is labeled as a " 'pathological condition' rather than a reflection of structural injustice - a 'pathological dysfunction' of those who are poor, rather than the structural dysfunction of an economic system that generates and reproduces inequality"; [26]  or when young people, to paraphrase W.E.B. Du Bois, become problem people rather than people who face problems; or when the plight of the homeless is defined less as a political and economic issue in need of social reform than as a matter of law and order; or when the state budgets for prison construction eclipse budgets for higher education.

The reach of the punishing state is especially evident in the ways in which many public schools now use punishment as the main tool for control. In the devalued landscape of public schooling, what becomes clear is that punishing young people seems to be far more important than educating them.[27] Similarly, as advocates of a market-driven rationality raise an entire generation on the alleged virtues of "unrestricted individual responsibility," the disdain toward the common good finds its counterpart in increasing acts of "collective and political irresponsibility."[28] How might we proceed to reclaim the spirit of idealism and national unity that emerged after 9/11 in order to reverse the institutions, values and power relations that have created the current theater and culture of cruelty and pushed the notion of the democratic society to the margins of political discourse?

The spirit of idealism, solidarity and compassion appears to be almost at the vanishing point in America today. We have two Republican parties: one that seems wedded to corporate interests and a culture of cruelty, and another that has remade itself into a centrist-right party that extends and legitimates many of the policies of George W. Bush. The security state is as dangerous as ever, civil liberties are still under attack, preventive detention is still in place, and instead of subjecting alleged terrorists to the force of the legal system, they are, in some cases, simply assassinated. Obama supports the state secrets privilege and has made war a permanent condition of American society. The Koch brothers and their rich cronies are rewriting the meaning of American politics, pushing the United States further and further into a mode of soft authoritarianism. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that the United States is not on the brink of authoritarianism - it is on the brink of making sure that authoritarian state is not challenged. All over the world, people are putting their lives at risk in fighting for democracy, while in the United States, the two main political parties and a business-friendly Supreme Court are colluding with the rich and corporate elite to do everything possible to destroy it.

What does it say about a society when the elected government invests between $3.2  and $4 trillion taxpayer dollars in two wars, offers generous tax cuts for the rich, and bails out corrupt banks and insurance industries, but does not provide a decent education and job training opportunities for its most disadvantaged youth? Surely the ideals that emerged initially after 9/11 are now barely visible in a society that spends $6 billion a year for training Afghan military and police, but fires thousands of firefighters, teachers and other public servants. We drive up the deficit, gut important social programs, and, under the current Republican leadership, attempt to balance the budget on the backs of young people, working people, the poor and the elderly. Since the events of 9/11, it appears the war on terror has come home and, subsequently, war has become not only a form of governance and a primary organizing principle of society, but the foundation of politics itself.

One way of addressing our collapsing intellectual and moral visions is to reclaim and re-imagine those moments of compassion, social relations and democratic ideals that surfaced for a short time after 9/11. These moments now seem lost in a society more intent on forgetting than remembering.  Instead, we need to rethink the notion of tragic loss and how it impacts the possibility for opening up democratic public life. The aftermath of 9/11 raises the question of what elements of democracy are missing in a country dominated by the forces of militarism, casino capitalism, insecurity, fear, and a culture of cruelty. 9/11 must be seen as one of those momentous events that convey both a society's struggle to come to grips with human catastrophe and signals, at the same time, a most frightening truth about the changing nature of democracy. If we believe in the promise of democracy, the American public needs to engage in a form of memory work in which loss both evokes the principle of communal responsibility and reinforces the ethical imperative to provide young people, especially those marginalized by race and class, with the economic, social and educational conditions that make life livable and the future sustainable.

We need to re-imagine what liberty, equality and freedom might mean as truly democratic values and practices. Even after the tenth anniversary, we need to continue the remembrance of 9/11 to ensure not only the rightful mourning of the victims of that tragic event, but also the honoring of those fallen men and women by embracing a spirit of fraternity and justice that dignifies how we remember them, their loved ones and future generations.  Clearly, any society that endorses market principles as a template for shaping all aspects of social life and cares more about the accumulation of capital than it does about the fate of young people is in trouble. Next to the needs of the market place, life has become cheap, if not irrelevant. We have lived too long with governments and institutions that make lofty claims to democracy while selectively punishing those considered expendable - in prisons, public schools, foster care institutions and urban slums. As public life is commercialized, commodified and policed, the pathology of individual entitlement and narcissism erodes those public spaces in which the conditions for conscience, decency, self-respect, and collective dignity take root. We need to liberate the discourse and spaces of freedom from the plagues of militarism and consumer narcissism and struggle to build those public spaces where democratic ideals, visions, and social relations can be nurtured and developed as part of a genuinely meaningful education and politics.

As we continue to remember the events of 9/11, we have an opportunity to recast the conversation about the value of public life, the social state, our democratic institutions and the future of young people. We can honor the lives of those killed on 9/11, as well as the heroic actions of those first responders who sought to save the lives of others, by celebrating the selflessness, common humanity and collective hospitality that emerged in the aftermath of those tragic events. This challenge is particularly urgent at such a dark time in our history as a nation. And it is not a fight we can win through individual struggles or fragmented, single-issue political movements - it demands that we reclaim the principles, values and social relations that constitute the promise of a democracy to come. For a brief moment after 9/11, we were given a glimpse of the power and dignity of those ideals that make a substantive democracy possible.

In the spirit of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the nation engaged in acts of mourning and heartfelt remembrance for the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives. In the face of unspeakable hardship and suffering, people all over the country, not only those directly involved in rescue and recovery efforts, reaffirmed the dignity of public values, the social good and the importance of caring for the lives of others. In doing so, they offered a much needed glimpse of those principles, practices and ideals required to ensure a truly democratic future - that is, as journalist Bill Moyers has eloquently insisted, "a future in which democracy is not just the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become full free to claim their moral and political agency."[29] What the collective response to 9/11 signifies amid the suffering and despair is a gesture of hope, a recognition that in the behavior of those who sacrificed themselves to help others, a bittersweet beacon of the repressed spirit of democracy shone forth. The call to witnessing and counter-memory exceeds the despair of the past and speaks also to the future. It is a call that is prophetic in its insistence that the economic, political and social conditions be created for upcoming generations to decide their own future and take back their country from the dark and dangerous policies and politics that have chosen authoritarianism over democracy.

1. Stephen Holden, "Perils of the Corporate Ladder: It Hurts When You Fall," New York Times (December 10, 2010), p. C9.
2. Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (London: Polity, 2001), p. 55.
3. Sheldon Wolin takes up this issue in"Political Theory: From Vocation to Invocation," in Jason Frank and John Tambornino, eds., Vocations of Political Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 3-22.
4. Roger Simon, "A Shock to Thought," Memory Studies (February 21, 2011).
5. Etienne Balibar, We, The People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 116.
6. Ibid., Balibar, We, The People of Europe? p. 119.
7. Reed Johnson, "Will the War on Terror Define a Generation?" Los Angeles Times (September 23, 2011).
8. Jean-Marie Colombani, "We Are All Americans," Le Monde (September 12, 2001).
9. Cited from CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley (September 1, 2011).
10. David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 4-5.
11. Joan Didion quoted in Frank Rich, "Day’s End," New York Magazine (August 27, 2011).
12. Frank Rich,. "Day’s End," New York Magazine, (August 27, 2011):
13. Michiko Kakutani, "The 9/11 Decade: Outdone by Reality," The New York Times (September 1, 2011).
14. Editorial, "Looking at America," The New York Times (December 31, 2007), p. A20.
15. Editorial, "Looking at America."
16. Editorial, "Looking at America."
17. Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
18. Michelle Brown, The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society and Spectacle (New York: New York University Press, 2009), p. 7.
19. Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 294.
20. Paul Krugman, "Eric and Irene," The New York Times (September 1, 2011), p. A23.
21. Amanda Terkel, "Maine GOP Legislators Looking to Loosen Child Labour Laws," Huffington Post (March 30, 2011).
22. Noam Chomsky, "Was There an Alternative: Looking Back on 9/11 a Decade Later," TomDispatch.com (September 6, 2011).
23. Diane Turbyfill, "Bank Robber Planned Crime and Punishment," Gaston Gazette (June 16, 2011).
24. Joseph E. Stiglitz, "The Price of 9/11," Project Syndicate (September 1, 2011).
25. Richard A. Clarke, "The Lessons of 9/11," The Daily Beast (September 7. 2007).

25A. Paul Krugman, "The Years of Shame," New York Times (September 11, 2011)
26. Zygmunt Bauman, Living on Borrowed Time: Conversations with Citlali Rovirosa-Madrazo (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010), p. 4.
27. Erik Eckholm, "School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge," The New York Times (March 18, 2010), p. A14.
28. Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, p. 6.
29. Bill Moyers, "A Time for Anger, A Call to Action," CommonDreams.org (March 22, 2007).

Henry A Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books include:  On Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011), Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm 2012), Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories and the Culture of Cruelty (Routledge 2012), Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), and The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), America's Disimagination Machine (City Lights) and Higher Education After Neoliberalism (Haymarket) will be published in 2014). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com. Truthout readers receive a 30% discount by clicking the link and inserting the Code: TOGIR (please note that this code is cap-sensitive) on the following books: Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future, March 2013; The Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Politics in an Age of Disposability, April 2012; Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror, August 2010; Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy, April 2010; and The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, June 2007.


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Counter-Memory and the Politics of Loss After 9/11

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 03:23 By Henry A Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
Counter-Memory and the Politics of Loss After 911

 A poster with pictures of victims of 9/11 is displayed near ground zero in 2005. (Photo: Ashley Gilbertson / The New York Times)

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we once again witnessed nationwide displays of unity and mourning, though such tributes had to contend with a decade in which matters of memory and remembrance were more complicated, shaped as much by trauma, heroism, and tragic loss as by the realities of power, politics and war. Hopefully, we will learn that there were many tempered forms of patriotism and national unity that offered Americans an opportunity to engage more fully with a decade-long series of memories. Whenever we honor the victims and survivors of 9/11, we should not be reluctant to engage also in public dialogue about both the legacy and the politics that precipitated and emerged from the events that took place on that tragic day.

Remembering 9/11 is as much an exercise in retrieving counter-memories as it is a ritualistic exercise in traditional acts of remembrance. Counter-memory is wedded to justice and suggests a form of memory work in which the past is more open to public debate, more alive to the unseemly side of a crisis that pushes to the side, marginalizes or simply denies recollections that bespeak less our courage than our culpability. Such uncomfortable moments of consciousness provide the basis for a form of witnessing that refuses the warmongering, human rights violations, xenophobia, and the violation of civil liberties that take shape under the banner of injury and vengeance, resulting in the militarization and de-democratization of American society.

In retrospect, it is clear that the call for national unity offered no guarantees about the politics it might produce, but, more often than not, the appeal to pride and patriotism silences dissent, public debate and critical dialogue. What 9/11 made clear is that just memory requires those elements of counter-memory that challenge the official narratives of 9/11 in order to recover the most valuable and most vulnerable elements of democratic culture too often sacrificed in tragedy's aftermath. Now we need to seize upon the retrieval of innumerable forms of compassion, solidarity, courage and collective will that for a brief moment illuminated the best of what American democracy can become.

In the hours and days that bled out from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the unfolding sense of trauma and loss drew us together in a fragile blend of grief, shared responsibility, compassion, and a newfound respect for the power of  common purpose and commitment. The translation of such events into acts of public memory, mourning, and memorializing are ambivalent and deeply unsettling. We must recall that they do not only bring about states of emergency and the suspension of civil norms and order. They can, and did, give birth to enormous political, ethical and social possibilities. Yet, such enlightened moments proved fleeting. A society has to move with deliberate speed from the act of witnessing to the responsibility of just memorializing; in other words, to the equally difficult practice of reconfiguring what politics, ethics and civic engagement should mean after 9/11. On the tenth anniversary of that tragic day, our struggle to remember and reclaim those moments in good faith was constantly challenged, and in ways that few of us would dare to have imagined a decade later.

We have learned, and continue to learn, of the high cost of living in a society with an overabundance of violence and inequality and an impoverished supply of long-term commitments and permanent bonds. This is a market-driven society, a fast-paced society of consumers committed only to throwing caution to the wind, whose merits are measured in profit margins and the gross domestic product (GDP). As New York Times writer Stephen Holden stated, "the modern corporation [has become] a sterile Darwinian shark tank in which the only thing that matters is the bottom line."[1] As the United States increasingly produces social forms that too quickly exceed their use-by date, uncertainty and precarity contour every aspect of daily life. Under such circumstances, memory is often stripped of its responsibility to justice and becomes flat and self-serving, if not expendable, where inconvenient. As the gravity of loss is divorced from both the past and present, memory loses its claim upon social institutions, politics, democracy and the future. Daily experience in the age of instant pleasure, living for the moment and the compulsive pursuit of material self-interest no longer appears to be mediated by loss as a function of memory. Instead, memory is overtaken by either the more pressing demands of consumerism or the cruel reality of lost jobs, smashed hopes and hard-lived lives. In a society that increasingly disavows civic engagement, the web of human bonds is weakened through an emphasis on the unattached individual removed from civic life.

One consequence of this is the almost pathological disdain for community and public values, while any sense of the public good vanishes. In the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, we are witnessing "a weakening of democratic pressures, a growing inability to act politically, [and] a massive exit from politics and from responsible citizenship."[2] Politics is emptied of its democratic vitality as more and more Americans make an obsession out of creating wealth, dismiss the welfare state as a pathology, define government as the problem, and reduce popular culture to the trafficking of pain, humiliation, and spectacular violence. Under such circumstances, "loss tends to be an experience we are advised to 'get past.'"[3]

In the decade following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, it is clear that loss, memory and remembrance share an uneasy, if not unsettled, embrace. Remembrance can become dysfunctional, erasing the most important elements of history and trivializing what survives of the event through either crass appeals to an untroubled celebration of patriotism or a crass commercialization of 9/11 as an object to be treated as just another commodity for sale. But remembrance can also recover what is lost to this historical amnesia. It can produce both difficult thoughts, bringing forth not only painful memories of personal loss and collective vulnerability, but also new understandings of how specific events infuse the present and become a force for how one imagines the future, including, to quote Roger Simon, how "one imagines oneself, one's responsibility to others, and one's civic duty to a larger democratic polity and range of diverse communities."[4] Memory can be an instigator of both despair and hope, often in ways in which the division between desperation and hope becomes blurred. For instance, the spectacular shock and violence of 9/11 ruptured an arrogant and insular period in American history that had proclaimed the triumph of progress and the end of ideology, history and conflict, all the while imposing an unbearable experience of loss, grief, sorrow,and shock on large segments of the world's population. 

A decade later, this unprecedented tragedy imposes not only the noble burden of remembering the victims of the barbarous violence of 9/11, but also the question of what survives from that moment of intense pain and fear, when the very possibility of community, solidarity and compassion returned, however briefly, from exile. What does it mean to expand the experience of loss after 9/11 in order to suggest that what we witnessed for a short time in the days following the terrorist attack was a "crucial experiment in which the very possibility" of the social state, if not democracy itself, was once again open to discussion and debate?[5] I think it is fair to state that in the period immediately following 9/11, the American public was provided with a glimpse of what Marxist philosopher Etienne Balibar has called "the insurrectional element of democracy" in which "the very possibility of a community among humans" was put into high relief, while at the same time the very essence of democratic politics and the formative culture that made it possible appeared to hang in the balance.[6]

Mourning fused with a renewed sense of idealism immediately following that shocking moment in history. One can hear it in the words of a young man named Jedediah Purdy, who wrote that it has been "amazing to see how in these past few days we - who have been so used to living with our selves front and center - are suddenly all aware that a common condition comes first. We have not been flip, self-involved, needlessly sarcastic or focused on small divisions. We have all been looking for ways to help. All of us. That is new to us."[7] From the smoldering ruins of 9/11 emerged a host of civic values and a vibrant sense of national unity, along with a newfound sense of global solidarity. The French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed in banner headlines, "WE ARE ALL AMERICANS."[8]

Vulnerability elicited compassion rather than scorn, even as the galloping materialistic obsessions, rampant greed, anti-government rhetoric, and Gilded Age cruelty of the 1980's and 90's seemed to give way to notions of shared sacrifice and collective hope. For a short moment, the social as a democratic and communal register was embraced in both a public and an existential sense. The general contempt for community, public values, and public goods that gained in force and intensity since the Reagan era seem to pale next to a newfound sense of solidarity and the common good. Public values took precedence over private interests. Communal concerns were given priority over the materialistic concerns of the market and a fatuous celebrity culture. Public servants, especially the 9/11 firefighters and police officers, were praised for their unflagging endurance and unwavering commitment to saving lives. The government was viewed as a crucial resource for providing security in terms of both physical protection and crucial public services. The United States was warmly embraced by other nations for a moment, and its democratic ideals and spirit of leadership resonated with the deepest and most profound elements of an embattled global democracy.

Echoes of this lost idealism have resurfaced in the accounts of those public servants whose memories will be forever etched with the horrors and heroism of 9/11. One such story recounts, ten years since, how a sense of common purpose and shared idealism had returned, however briefly. It is told by former New York City firefighter Ray Pfeifer. Right after the Twin Towers fell, Pfeifer worked at the Trade Center site for seven months, amidst "a choking dust cloud - a brew of pulverized cement and known carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, PBS, and dioxin" - what he would later call a "toxic soup." Nine years later, he was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer that eventually spread to his bones.

"Doctors removed part of his leg, and hip and a kidney. Pfeifer's cancer has come back. When asked by a CBS news correspondent if he regretted his rescue efforts after 9/11, he replied that he'd do it again because he was searching for his buddies. "I had a good friend of mine's son ask me, 'Ray, are we ever going to find my dad?' Pfeifer said. 'This is what this kid said to me. And I think we gave a lot of closure to a lot of families.'"[9] What seems almost shocking in Pfeifer's statement is not only his stunningly brave sense of social responsibility, but the dignity and compassion he exhibits over the suffering of a child looking for his lost father. I say shocking because that period of idealism, that moment of hope and possibility following 9/11, soon came to an end as the Bush-Cheney regime pushed the United States into an abyss of militarism, fear, insecurity and failed sociality. David Simpson has persuasively argued that the Bush administration used the event as "a pretext for political opportunism and military adventurism [in which] in less than two years we went from the fall of the Twin Towers and the attack on the Pentagon to the invasion of Iraq, a process marked by propagandist compression and manufactured consent so audacious as to seem unbelievable, except that it happened."[10]

Our collective fall from grace is now well known. Instead of being a threshold to a different future and a register for a restored democratic faith, the decade following 9/11 became an era of buried memories  and monumentalization of what Joan Didion contemptuously called “fixed ideas.”[11] Rather than initiating a period of questioning and learning, the war on terror morphed into a war without end, producing abuses both at home and abroad, all of which resembled an unending fabric of illegality. America's status as a symbol of freedom that elicited worldwide respect was squandered, giving way to a culture of fear, mass hysteria and state secrecy. At the same time, the Bush administration waged war overseas, it unleashed ruthless market forces at home, along with a virulent propaganda machine in which public issues collapsed into private concerns, and the future - like the market that drove it - was detached from any viable notion of ethical and social responsibility. Finance capital replaced human capital; economics was detached from ethics; youth were viewed as a risk rather than at risk; and the formative culture necessary for a democracy collapsed into a rampaging commercialism, as citizens became defined exclusively as consumers and the notion of the social was increasingly viewed as a liability rather than as a strength.

Shared sacrifice, compassion for others and acting together for a common purpose as a necessary condition of political life turned out to be short-lived under the Bush-Cheney administration. As Frank Rich recently reminded us, "the president scuttled the notion on the first weekend after the attack, telling Americans that it was his 'hope' that 'they make no sacrifice whatsoever' beyond, perhaps, tolerating enhanced airline security. Few leaders in either party contradicted him. Bush would soon implore us to 'get down to Disney World in Florida' and would even lend his image to a travel-industry ad promoting tourism."[12] In the face of unimaginable loss, fear and insecurity, Bush urged the American public to get a grip and go shopping. That's not the worst of it. What then emerged in the last decade was an intensification of many anti-democratic forces that were only briefly interrupted with the outpouring of compassion and solidarity following the tragic events of 9/11. In many ways, as New York Times reporter Michiko Kakutani put it, "the New Normal [following 9/11] was very much like the Old Normal."[13]

In fact, the forces that had been undermining democracy since the 1980's appeared to receive new life under the Bush administration. These included:  the growing power of corporations in American politics; an intensified attack on unions; the ascendency of the military-security state; a persistent and growing racism, especially targeting immigrants and Muslims; the suppression of civil rights, especially under the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act; the rise of the punishing state, with its mass incarceration of people of color; the rise of a culture of surveillance and fear; the attack on the social state; the increasing privatization of public life; growing support for a cutthroat form of economic Darwinism and its celebration of cruelty; and the reformulation, under the Bush-Cheney regime, of politics as an extension of war, both abroad and on the domestic front. In a startling editorial published on December 31, 2007, The New York Times declared that in the years since 9/11, "lawless behavior has become standard practice," most evident in the attempt on the part of high-ranking government leaders "to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators."[14] The editorial went further, arguing that "[t]he White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that ... swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America's global image and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging of times."[15] The editorial ended with the chilling statement that, "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country."[16]

The New York Times editorial was simply suggesting what many people already knew. A post-9/ll celebration of public purpose, civic duty, and public servants had given way to a form of economic Darwinism in which government was viewed as the problem, individuals were responsible for their own plight and society did not exist. The elected government was losing its sense of public purpose, being reduced to serving the power of financial capital, on the one hand, and assuming the role of a punishing state, on the other. As the social state collapsed and people were left destitute, the punishing state emerged to deal with the consequences. More and more problems were now mediated and addressed less as social issues than as matters to be handled through what has been called a "governing through crime" complex.[17]

As we now face the aftermath of the damage wreaked by the Bush administration, it has become a widespread belief that social problems are caused by individual deficits and should be treated as disciplinary problems, just as the prison and its culture of punishment massively extends throughout our social foundations and cultural landscape. Or, as criminologist and author Michelle Brown puts it, the vocabulary and architecture of the punishing state now spreads, "[a]cross families, communities, schools, religion, the military, politics, the economy, and beyond, normalizing punishment, and 'governance through crime and fear.'"[18] As sociologist and writer Loic Wacquant argues, we have witnessed, in the last few decades, the rise of a punishing state that "offers relief not to the poor but from the poor, by forcibly 'disappearing' the most disruptive of them, from the shrinking welfare rolls on the one hand, and into the swelling dungeons of the carceral castle on the other."[19]

Within the last decade, America has taken a dire turn to the dark side and embraced a ruthless kind of moral Darwinism in which a survival-of-the-fittest logic and a cult-of-the-winner mentality legitimate a war of all against all and pernicious cynicism as the prevailing attitude toward everyday life.  We now live in a society driven by a hyped-up market fundamentalism that thrives on a culture of hardness to the point of cruelty. How else to explain the lack of public response over a Republican Congress that wants to tax the poor while refusing to raise taxes on the exorbitantly rich and hedge fund millionaires? The same Congress declares it is unwilling to provide disaster relief funds to first responders unless President Obama agrees to cut vital social programs. Economist Paul Krugman refers to the latter policy advocated by House majority leader Eric Cantor as a form of "policy blackmail - using innocent Americans as hostages," which, for the current government, has become standard operating procedure.[20]

How else can we explain the lack of moral outrage when the governor of Maine and the state legislature introduce a bill to loosen child labor laws, with one of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Rep. Bruce Bickford, defending the bill with the statement: "Kids have parents. Let the parents be responsible for the kids. It's not up to the government to regulate everybody's life and lifestyle."[21] Where is the public outrage in reaction to right-wing extremists in Congress who, as Noam Chomsky points out, use the debt crisis "to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and in general remaining barriers to corporate tyranny"?[22] What has happened to democracy in the United States when the American public barely blinks at a media story about 59-year-old James Richard Verone, who, unemployed and ill, robbed one dollar from a bank in Gaston, North Carolina, so he could get life saving medical care?[23] Evidently, remembrance of the profound sacrifice, civic courage, and unity displayed in the aftermath of  9/11 has given way to a hardening of the culture in the face of many who now struggle to survive and a turning away from others' suffering that does not augur well for either future generations or democracy itself.

Where is the political and moral outrage over a war based on false representations - a war in which the collateral damage is almost unimaginable - with more than 4,000 American soldiers having died and over 10, 000 having been wounded. In addition, "more than a million Iraqis have died [while]  there are 1.8 million refugees and 1.7 million internally displaced people."[24] Richard A. Clarke, former national security chief under George W. Bush, captures the full horror of the crimes committed by the Bush-Cheney administration in its attempts to hijack the events of 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. He writes: "We invaded a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attack on us, but had everything to do with the preconceived plans of a cabal in and out of our government. In the process, we killed 100,000, wounded many times more, and threw millions out of their homes. More Americans suffered violent deaths in Iraq than did on 9/11, and multiples more were scarred for life. Americans, including our troops, were lied to about Iraq's role in 9/11 and some marched to their death motivated by those lies."[25] George W. Bush did more than lie and behave badly. Paraphrasing Paul Krugman, Bush poisoned the memory of 9/11, allowing it to “become an occasion for shame.”[25A]

One symptom of the crisis of idealism we have lived through in the last decade is the refusal of the American public to confront its own vulnerability, misfortunes, and growing inequalities in income and wealth as part of a lost legacy of social justice, engaged citizenship, and democratic values. A dire consequence of this refusal is a present and future in which populations who were once viewed as facing dire problems in need of state interventions and social protections are now seen as a problem threatening society. This becomes clear when poverty is labeled as a " 'pathological condition' rather than a reflection of structural injustice - a 'pathological dysfunction' of those who are poor, rather than the structural dysfunction of an economic system that generates and reproduces inequality"; [26]  or when young people, to paraphrase W.E.B. Du Bois, become problem people rather than people who face problems; or when the plight of the homeless is defined less as a political and economic issue in need of social reform than as a matter of law and order; or when the state budgets for prison construction eclipse budgets for higher education.

The reach of the punishing state is especially evident in the ways in which many public schools now use punishment as the main tool for control. In the devalued landscape of public schooling, what becomes clear is that punishing young people seems to be far more important than educating them.[27] Similarly, as advocates of a market-driven rationality raise an entire generation on the alleged virtues of "unrestricted individual responsibility," the disdain toward the common good finds its counterpart in increasing acts of "collective and political irresponsibility."[28] How might we proceed to reclaim the spirit of idealism and national unity that emerged after 9/11 in order to reverse the institutions, values and power relations that have created the current theater and culture of cruelty and pushed the notion of the democratic society to the margins of political discourse?

The spirit of idealism, solidarity and compassion appears to be almost at the vanishing point in America today. We have two Republican parties: one that seems wedded to corporate interests and a culture of cruelty, and another that has remade itself into a centrist-right party that extends and legitimates many of the policies of George W. Bush. The security state is as dangerous as ever, civil liberties are still under attack, preventive detention is still in place, and instead of subjecting alleged terrorists to the force of the legal system, they are, in some cases, simply assassinated. Obama supports the state secrets privilege and has made war a permanent condition of American society. The Koch brothers and their rich cronies are rewriting the meaning of American politics, pushing the United States further and further into a mode of soft authoritarianism. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that the United States is not on the brink of authoritarianism - it is on the brink of making sure that authoritarian state is not challenged. All over the world, people are putting their lives at risk in fighting for democracy, while in the United States, the two main political parties and a business-friendly Supreme Court are colluding with the rich and corporate elite to do everything possible to destroy it.

What does it say about a society when the elected government invests between $3.2  and $4 trillion taxpayer dollars in two wars, offers generous tax cuts for the rich, and bails out corrupt banks and insurance industries, but does not provide a decent education and job training opportunities for its most disadvantaged youth? Surely the ideals that emerged initially after 9/11 are now barely visible in a society that spends $6 billion a year for training Afghan military and police, but fires thousands of firefighters, teachers and other public servants. We drive up the deficit, gut important social programs, and, under the current Republican leadership, attempt to balance the budget on the backs of young people, working people, the poor and the elderly. Since the events of 9/11, it appears the war on terror has come home and, subsequently, war has become not only a form of governance and a primary organizing principle of society, but the foundation of politics itself.

One way of addressing our collapsing intellectual and moral visions is to reclaim and re-imagine those moments of compassion, social relations and democratic ideals that surfaced for a short time after 9/11. These moments now seem lost in a society more intent on forgetting than remembering.  Instead, we need to rethink the notion of tragic loss and how it impacts the possibility for opening up democratic public life. The aftermath of 9/11 raises the question of what elements of democracy are missing in a country dominated by the forces of militarism, casino capitalism, insecurity, fear, and a culture of cruelty. 9/11 must be seen as one of those momentous events that convey both a society's struggle to come to grips with human catastrophe and signals, at the same time, a most frightening truth about the changing nature of democracy. If we believe in the promise of democracy, the American public needs to engage in a form of memory work in which loss both evokes the principle of communal responsibility and reinforces the ethical imperative to provide young people, especially those marginalized by race and class, with the economic, social and educational conditions that make life livable and the future sustainable.

We need to re-imagine what liberty, equality and freedom might mean as truly democratic values and practices. Even after the tenth anniversary, we need to continue the remembrance of 9/11 to ensure not only the rightful mourning of the victims of that tragic event, but also the honoring of those fallen men and women by embracing a spirit of fraternity and justice that dignifies how we remember them, their loved ones and future generations.  Clearly, any society that endorses market principles as a template for shaping all aspects of social life and cares more about the accumulation of capital than it does about the fate of young people is in trouble. Next to the needs of the market place, life has become cheap, if not irrelevant. We have lived too long with governments and institutions that make lofty claims to democracy while selectively punishing those considered expendable - in prisons, public schools, foster care institutions and urban slums. As public life is commercialized, commodified and policed, the pathology of individual entitlement and narcissism erodes those public spaces in which the conditions for conscience, decency, self-respect, and collective dignity take root. We need to liberate the discourse and spaces of freedom from the plagues of militarism and consumer narcissism and struggle to build those public spaces where democratic ideals, visions, and social relations can be nurtured and developed as part of a genuinely meaningful education and politics.

As we continue to remember the events of 9/11, we have an opportunity to recast the conversation about the value of public life, the social state, our democratic institutions and the future of young people. We can honor the lives of those killed on 9/11, as well as the heroic actions of those first responders who sought to save the lives of others, by celebrating the selflessness, common humanity and collective hospitality that emerged in the aftermath of those tragic events. This challenge is particularly urgent at such a dark time in our history as a nation. And it is not a fight we can win through individual struggles or fragmented, single-issue political movements - it demands that we reclaim the principles, values and social relations that constitute the promise of a democracy to come. For a brief moment after 9/11, we were given a glimpse of the power and dignity of those ideals that make a substantive democracy possible.

In the spirit of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the nation engaged in acts of mourning and heartfelt remembrance for the nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives. In the face of unspeakable hardship and suffering, people all over the country, not only those directly involved in rescue and recovery efforts, reaffirmed the dignity of public values, the social good and the importance of caring for the lives of others. In doing so, they offered a much needed glimpse of those principles, practices and ideals required to ensure a truly democratic future - that is, as journalist Bill Moyers has eloquently insisted, "a future in which democracy is not just the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become full free to claim their moral and political agency."[29] What the collective response to 9/11 signifies amid the suffering and despair is a gesture of hope, a recognition that in the behavior of those who sacrificed themselves to help others, a bittersweet beacon of the repressed spirit of democracy shone forth. The call to witnessing and counter-memory exceeds the despair of the past and speaks also to the future. It is a call that is prophetic in its insistence that the economic, political and social conditions be created for upcoming generations to decide their own future and take back their country from the dark and dangerous policies and politics that have chosen authoritarianism over democracy.

1. Stephen Holden, "Perils of the Corporate Ladder: It Hurts When You Fall," New York Times (December 10, 2010), p. C9.
2. Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (London: Polity, 2001), p. 55.
3. Sheldon Wolin takes up this issue in"Political Theory: From Vocation to Invocation," in Jason Frank and John Tambornino, eds., Vocations of Political Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 3-22.
4. Roger Simon, "A Shock to Thought," Memory Studies (February 21, 2011).
5. Etienne Balibar, We, The People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 116.
6. Ibid., Balibar, We, The People of Europe? p. 119.
7. Reed Johnson, "Will the War on Terror Define a Generation?" Los Angeles Times (September 23, 2011).
8. Jean-Marie Colombani, "We Are All Americans," Le Monde (September 12, 2001).
9. Cited from CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley (September 1, 2011).
10. David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 4-5.
11. Joan Didion quoted in Frank Rich, "Day’s End," New York Magazine (August 27, 2011).
12. Frank Rich,. "Day’s End," New York Magazine, (August 27, 2011):
13. Michiko Kakutani, "The 9/11 Decade: Outdone by Reality," The New York Times (September 1, 2011).
14. Editorial, "Looking at America," The New York Times (December 31, 2007), p. A20.
15. Editorial, "Looking at America."
16. Editorial, "Looking at America."
17. Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
18. Michelle Brown, The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society and Spectacle (New York: New York University Press, 2009), p. 7.
19. Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 294.
20. Paul Krugman, "Eric and Irene," The New York Times (September 1, 2011), p. A23.
21. Amanda Terkel, "Maine GOP Legislators Looking to Loosen Child Labour Laws," Huffington Post (March 30, 2011).
22. Noam Chomsky, "Was There an Alternative: Looking Back on 9/11 a Decade Later," TomDispatch.com (September 6, 2011).
23. Diane Turbyfill, "Bank Robber Planned Crime and Punishment," Gaston Gazette (June 16, 2011).
24. Joseph E. Stiglitz, "The Price of 9/11," Project Syndicate (September 1, 2011).
25. Richard A. Clarke, "The Lessons of 9/11," The Daily Beast (September 7. 2007).

25A. Paul Krugman, "The Years of Shame," New York Times (September 11, 2011)
26. Zygmunt Bauman, Living on Borrowed Time: Conversations with Citlali Rovirosa-Madrazo (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010), p. 4.
27. Erik Eckholm, "School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge," The New York Times (March 18, 2010), p. A14.
28. Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, p. 6.
29. Bill Moyers, "A Time for Anger, A Call to Action," CommonDreams.org (March 22, 2007).

Henry A Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books include:  On Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011), Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm 2012), Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories and the Culture of Cruelty (Routledge 2012), Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), and The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), America's Disimagination Machine (City Lights) and Higher Education After Neoliberalism (Haymarket) will be published in 2014). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com. Truthout readers receive a 30% discount by clicking the link and inserting the Code: TOGIR (please note that this code is cap-sensitive) on the following books: Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future, March 2013; The Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Politics in an Age of Disposability, April 2012; Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror, August 2010; Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy, April 2010; and The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, June 2007.


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