Susan Sontag reacting to 9/11 in The New Yorker remains essential reading.
Today is a sad day. Concentric circles of mourning radiate, outward and infinite, from the morning of September 11, 2011: for the deepest of personal tragedies; for the dark swerve of history’s arc; for the millions of lives made ruin in the years that followed.
It becomes increasingly hard, now, to explain to younger people what that day—and the days to follow—felt like in real time, as we attempted to absorb first the devastation, and shortly thereafter, its implications. But one could do a lot worse than to show them this New Yorker folio of writers reacting to 9/11. And lest anyone claim the whole nation was overcome with revanchist zeal, just read the words of Susan Sontag, clear and (though it’s a word she’d hate) courageous. I read them every year, on this day.
Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. “Our country is strong,” we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.