Daniel W. Drezner

What I think about when I think about 9/11

What I think about when I think about 9/11

I remember a few things about the day of the September 11th attacks. I remember being at Heathrow and wondering why they weren’t announcing the gate for my flight. I remember being puzzled why I couldn’t complete a transatlantic call when my flight appeared to be delayed. I remember my wife telling me what happened. I remember cursing the fact that I was marooned on another continent on one of the few days when my chosen specialty might have been of some practical use for my wife. And I remember, at some point, telling her, "it could have been worse." 

Because it could have been. United 93 could have hit its intended target instead of having the passengers and crew overwhelm the terrorists. Al Qaeda could have had a second wave of attacks planned. With some imagnation, al Qaeda could have killed a lot more people on that day. 

The other thing I remember in reaction to that day was when it was OK to be funny again.  Many pop culture historians will likely point to the first Saturday Night Live episode featuring Rudy Giuliani — except that wasn’t funny. Slightly more hip pop culture historians  might point to the monologues of either David Letterman or Jon Stewart — except they weren’t funny either. 

No, the first thing that made me laugh after the terrorist attacks  — and sustained my hope for America — was The Onion‘s first post-9/11 issue, from the headline "HOLY F&#KING S*&T" on the front to the television schedule in the back (On NBC at 10: "America’s Time Of Trial: Who F**king Wants Some? You? Do You? How ‘Bout You?"). Consider just the following list of headlines:

Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake

Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell

U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We’re At War With

American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie

God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule

Arab-American Third-Grader Returns From Recess Crying, Saying He Didn’t Kill Anyone

President Urges Calm, Restraint Among Nation’s Ballad Singers

Jerry Falwell: Is That Guy A Dick Or What?

Rest Of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection For New York

Massive Attack On Pentagon Page 14 News

And finally, the headline that has defined U.S. foreign policy debates for the past nine years: 

We Must Retaliate With Blind Rage vs. We Must Retaliate With Measured, Focused Rage

Any country with the capacity for that much self-lacerating humor will be OK in the long run.  So I mean this with all sincerity: that issue of The Onion made me proud to be an American.

Well, that and this Jack Shafer column on why Ground Zero is not hallowed ground