American grief and US imperialism
By Val Reynoso
The 9/11 memorial/museum is located in the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan near where the Twin Towers were bombed in 2001. The purpose of the museum is to commemorate those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks and educate visitors on what happened on that day based on the narrative provided by the museum.
The 9/11 museum is representative of how commemoration and grief in America is US-centric, and how narratives of US grief in regards to 9/11 are informed by US imperialist propaganda, Islamophobia, and capitalist ideology.
The museum serves as a permanent reminder of the damage done to the US by terrorist groups and of the suffering nationally felt for years to come as a result of it. The US created the predicaments that resulted in 9/11, then launched a “war on terror,’ expansion of US imperialist power, and forceful accumulation of foreign commodities in said regions.
The irony in the 9/11 memorial and museum is that although they indoctrinate viewers to think that the US is the ultimate victim, the US is actually more of a perpetuator of violence than a victim. Architecture was an object of significance to the culture of commemoration resulting from 9/11 and played into the politics of innocence in the US that followed as well. Additionally, the 9/11 memorial is also informed by violence and unity behind a common perceived enemy. The memorial would not exist had it not been for the terrorist attacks and widespread American perception of Al-Qaeda being the enemy of the US.
The names of each 9/11 victim are engraved into the memorial, which ties into capitalist individualism and private property. Private property binds people to the present and cocoons them from death; the US is obsessed with the idea of the renewable body, therefore making it an anti-tragic society because the unequal distribution of private property hinders such sympathy from being felt at all. The US has become obsessed with renewing the American body to when national sentiment was not rooted in the feeling of living in a time of death.
Victims of US imperialism are seldom commemorated in the West; the 9/11 memorial is an emblem of the afterlife of the 9/11 attack on the US and a representation of the loss of life as a result of it, but not all sides of the story are shown—strategically so.
The Portraits of Grief exhibit in the museum are walls full of images of each of the people who were killed in the bombings. The exhibit serves the purpose of paying due respect to each individual who was lost and their loved ones; “Every fragment of a former human being is now the object of careful preservation” (Simpson 75).
The Portraits of Grief is an instance of how death is used to build nationalism and how US nationalism is rooted in death. The murders of the 9/11 victims produced a national identity of an America that would avenge itself against its alleged oppressors and would be resilient in the face of non-Western terrorism.
Furthermore, US nationalism is rooted in death and in the production of more deaths abroad in the name of US imperialism and American exceptionalism. Post-9/11, commemoration has been absolved by revenge along with the commodification of national mourning, but not for those whose deaths resulted from US imperialism and domestic policies.
The US wants to maintain its position as a capitalist, hegemonic, imperialist Western power, and will continue to seek revenge and forced capital by all means from those who dared to challenge its authority and pervasive dominance; even more unfortunate is the fact that the lives of millions of innocent Middle Eastern and African civilians have had to pay this price.
Middle Easterners residing in countries under constant attack by US imperialism cry daily, die daily and hardly receive the recognition and respect they deserve.
The 9/11 museum also symbolizes American selfish thought and feeling, Americans will only commemorate their own losses and those of their fellow capitalist Western allies such as settler-colonial state Israel and France, to the point where they will even make a museum to commemorate their own loss meanwhile continuing to neglect and be the driving force behind the losses of oppressed nationalities.
Moreover, 9/11 produced an America that was even more outwardly imperialist than it was before the incident along with a nationalism marked by revenge. Despite US mainstream media indoctrinating and conditioning people to believe that 9/11 was a day of grief over a great loss, in reality 9/11 was the result of preconditions implicated by US imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy—hence indirectly making it a suicide given that the US helped create and fund Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then baselessly accused Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for war and intervention in the nation by the US a few years post-9/11.
The US also helped create the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Carter administration, and funded jihadist groups in Syria and Saudi Arabia during the Obama administration.
Ultimately, the US ignites the flames of the fires that will then burn them, then deflects blame and grieves over the losses they are in part responsible for.
American exceptionalism and politics of innocence are also complicit in the indoctrination of citizens post-9/11 because of the victimization of the US as being a nation that is incapable of perpetuating harm and that is fallen vulnerable to hindering of American freedom by foreign, non-Western countries. Post-9/11, the US rose from the ashes in capitalist, imperialist vengeance to restore their domination as a hegemonic world power.
The victims of the 9/11 attacks did not deserve to die; however, neither did the millions of Black and Brown people that have been murdered by the US empire and forgotten, and Westerners oftentimes are indifferent to these casualties brought about by US imperialism and capitalism—which is an issue and reflective of larger cultural attitudes carried by the West.
Val Reynoso is Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.