"The Kitschification of Sept. 11"

By Daniel Harris

Published January 28, 2002 9:22AM (EST)

Read the story.

I went through a wide range of emotions while reading your excellent article on the wave of "kitsch" in the aftermath of Sept. 11. I continue to be glad that Salon's ideological pendulum swings through the full range of right to left, despite my belief that most readers are politically-left-of-center.

I am an active-duty Coast Guard officer in my late 20s. I am serving my first staff duty assignment after spending most of my career thus far at sea. The never-ending swirl of forwarded e-mail, Clip Art, bad poetry, and worse music (Can I watch a Cleveland Browns game without being serenaded by Lee Greenwood, please?) slowed to a crawl in the federal building in which I work by mid-October. Why? For many of the reasons described in your outstanding article.

For an armed service (the most neglected of the five) whose motto is "Semper Paratus" or "always ready", and whose tradition and missions center around rescuing others in peril at sea, the loud, visible displays of emotion seem somewhat empty. Many of those I have served with take pride in quiet resolve, conscientious action, and muted yet sincere support of others. In short, we refuse to be victims or buy into the commercialized veneer of Sept. 11 because we have a job to do for the American People, and we know that no kitschy generalization will make that job go away or make it any easier.

I, for one, would be much happier if the memory of those that perished was immortalized through quiet deeds and quiet decisions. Personally, I would prefer for young people to enter careers of service (and not just military service), but there are many other ways to give back that aren't often chosen by the youth of this era. These silent course changes don't map over to sound bites or political campaigns, but would make our country and society stronger in the long run.

Open eyes, compassionate hearts, and steeled resolve will both prevent enemies from striking blows from outside, and internally, prevent us from ever forgetting the strength, flexibility, and diversity that is represented by the Constitution of the United States.

-- Eric Hoernemann

Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick ... to even suggest that we as Americans feel "pleasure" in the horrific death of thousands of innocent people is the product of a diseased sense of morality. Shame on Salon for publishing this attack on the genuine grief felt by so many Americans!

I don't care what sense of "history" the terrorists were operating under, what they did was so outside of any accepted moral context that it rendered debate an exercise in idiocy. Americans did not make these "men" monstrous, they chose to make themselves monstrous. It was their "moral choice" to kill thousands of innocent people. I cannot and will not ever accept that kind of "morality" as anything other than sick and crazy. It needs to be eradicated. If it is not eradicated, we will be eradicated.

I wonder if this writer believes that because he seeks to "understand" the "historical context" behind the terrorist attacks, the terrorists would have shown him any mercy. Doesn't he understand, they hate us because we are Americans, and it doesn't matter how liberal and understanding we are, they will kill us anyway?

We are fighting for our lives. Deal with it.

-- Mari Miller-Lamb

Boy are you guys going to get a lot of hate mail for this one. I just thought I'd drop a line to take a solo of dissent from what will surely be a four-part-harmony chorus of rebuke for Mr. Harris' article.

Though I think at times he does go a little too far -- particularly when criticizing the online community for unanimously grieving and expressing sympathy for the victims (any other reaction would be despicable, no?) -- I agree with most of his ideas, if not all of his individual points. The public's general lack of insight into the events leading up to 9/11, which cannot be explained away, as Bush would have, as jealousy of America as the world's "beacon of freedom," is alarming, and the flag-waving that has stepped into the breach is, if not disgusting, a little sad.

Though it's not a perfect article, it is at least a different viewpoint, and I think we could all use a few more of those -- though it's not likely that many of us are looking for them.

-- Alex Castle

Kudos, kudos, kudos! Salon is to be commended for publishing this brave, powerful, eloquent and clear-eyed analysis of our collective reaction to the tragedy of Sept. 11. I am truly grateful that Salon published this piece.

One thing, though, stuck in my craw, and that was Harris' constant use of the word "we" when describing the actions of the kitschy types he rightfully bemoans. I for one did not have a knee-jerk reaction to what happened at the WTC, because the fate suffered by all who died there literally encompassed all three of my worst nightmares regarding death: Falling from a tall building, being buried alive and crushed, and being torn apart in a plane crash. Kitsch has nothing to do with the near panic that overwhelms me every time I try and imagine what their final moments were like, but empathy does.

-- Rob Anderson

There have been, and will continue to be, reasonable disagreements about our ongoing reaction to Sept. 11. I don't think anyone seriously opposes the idea that our best response will be forged by healthy debate. To the extent that our newfound heightened sense of community causes that debate to be less shrill, I think that's a good thing.

Lastly, why shouldn't we be moved by the bravery of the firefighters who ran into the burning towers, sprinted up 80 floors, and were killed for their efforts? It takes nothing from the tragic deaths of the unsuspecting to point out the valor of those who knowingly ran into harm's way to save the lives of strangers.

-- Dan Shmikler

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