Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


Last year I wrote that I didn’t think anyone in America was thinking about movies, and so I didn’t write about them. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I won’t write about them again.

I’m sure that it is annoying to most of the people on the planet that in the media centers of America, terrorism didn’t really exist in human terms until it was visited in a big way on U.S. soil. Lots of people have suffered all over the world and for the length of human history, and 9/11 wasn’t the first or the worst occurrence. So be it. But to Americans it is a big deal, and there is no way around that.

Anyone who spent the day, as I have, listening to National Public Radio for hours, has a skewed view of the temper of the country on the anniversary. By chance, we spent the entire day driving through Oregon and northern California, and the radio as our only contact with the rest of the world. The picture presented by NPR was of a somber and subdued nation in mourning and deep reflection. This image was dispelled, however, when we got out of the car in Redding and discovered that everyone there had spent the day having a blast boating on the Sacramento River. Okay, so the west coast is a bit removed from the proximity that New Yorkers and other easterners feel.

My favorite radio psychologist (no, not Dr. Laura) says that the first year after a loss is important because we have to go through an entire cycle in the changed world before things can get back to some sort of normal. I don’t know if things will be more normal now, but in the meantime it was one heck of a year. What is amazing is how normal things had gotten before this anniversary made 9/11 fresh in our minds again. It is hard to believe that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked a whole year ago, yet it seems an eternity since we all felt that intense paranoia about the next attack. Remember when we thought twice about drinking our tap water or going into a major public place? Or handling our own mail? That all seemed to have melted away.

It seemed to take forever for the U.S. government to retaliate, but now the war in Afghanistan seems very far away, even though it is still going on. And it didn’t take long for the new national unity to give in to the political parties trying to capitalize on the new realities. Politicians and pundits on the right were quick to work on eroding civil rights and to impugn the religion of Islam, and naturally blame the Clinton administration for negligence. Politicians on the left, while waving the flag, were quick to blame American foreign policy for the atrocities, and naturally blame the Bush administration for negligence.

In short, things were back to normal.

So, one year later, where exactly are we? Well, we are still in the same dangerous world that we were in back on September 10, 2001, and every day in the history of mankind.

In a world where airplay and front page position are everything, the Bush administration seems to have the upper hand at the moment. Oh sure, the message from the media conglomerates is that Bush is having trouble getting anyone to buy into his envisioned invasion of Iraq. But the real story is that all the media are talking about is the invasion of Iraq instead of about Israel and the Palestinian problem, which is what Saddam Hussein managed to get them to talk about in the first half of the year. Even if the invasion never happens, Bush has scored a victory in the same way that Osama bin Laden scored a victory with all those videotapes he released after 9/11.

At the end of the day, that’s where the real battle will be fought: in the conduits of propaganda, which seem to have all the power in amassing armies and/or mobs. What is frightening is that the same people who decide that we are going to spend weeks focusing on abducted children or Martha Stewart’s portfolio (not to mention the ones who will play the next Osama bin Laden video, if one surfaces) will ultimately decide where whole countries are headed.

Last year I expressed the hope that the only division that 9/11 would reinforce between people would be the one between the civilized and the uncivilized. In a confusing world, it is still possible to see the difference between the two. In a bit of unaccustomed eloquence, President Bush alluded to it in his Ellis Island speech. The uncivilized kill men, women and children to enhance their own power. The civilized sacrifice their own lives to save others.

As we saw on 9/11, America has a heck of a lot of civilized people.

-S.L., 11 September 2002

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive