The other side of Sept 11

I don’t typically blog on/about Sept 11. Last year was an exception, and my thoughts weren’t only about the anniversary, but they happened to coincide nicely.

Speaking of coincidences…

The other day, my mom suggested that I watch this documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. Today, of all days, I finally watched it. It’s about an elderly, homeless Japanese-American whom the filmmaker sees every day in her neighborhood and begins to worry about. But he’s content to live and sleep on the streets of Soho, so long as he’s making his art. And that’s the part that I think my mother wanted me to see. That tunnel-vision passion. That ability to subsist on one’s dream and little else.

And I did see that, and appreciate it, and admire it.

But I also saw the part where the Twin Towers bled flame, and smoke swallowed the sky, and dust and ash flooded through the city like rivers overflowing their banks. Caught unaware, I started to cry. I didn’t know this would be part of the story. But really, how could it not be? Is there any American life that isn’t touched by that day? By those terrifying images?

(How weird is it that the post-Sept 11 babies are almost teenagers now? That they have no memories of what happened, besides the ones passed down to them? That eventually there will be babies for whom Sept 11 means practically nothing? Just another date on the calendar. Another tick on a timeline for history class. Another melodramatic story that their grandparents tell. Time marches on…)

As New York City becomes a ghost town of sorrow, danger, and uncertainty, the filmmaker invites Mirikitani into her home. She learns more about his past, and as a result, the documentary begins to juxtapose his experiences in the Tule Lake internment camp (after the Pearl Harbor attacks) with the racially charged aftermath of Sept 11. The verbal slurs. The physical attacks. The vandalism, arson, assault, shootings, and harrassment. The way neighbors suddenly looked like strangers. The way friends suddenly acted like foes.

It was a stark reminder that not everything — or perhaps everyone — in America came out better and brighter. That not everything that rose from the ashes of the World Trade Center was triumphant. That for all the incredible, inspiring bravery and beauty of human spirit that we saw, there was some ugliness too. That when we say “never forget,” we have to remember everything, and learn from our own dark side as much as from our enemy’s.

I know that might not be a popular sentiment, but I thought it was too important not to say.

9 responses to “The other side of Sept 11”

  1. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    I definitely want to see this documentary.

    Also, your remark about post-9/11 babies not having any personal memory of that day has been big discussion in our household. My husband is an Engliah teacher and usually has his students write about what they remember that day. But this year, his students are too young. They don’t remember. It’s become something in a history book now.

    I know those of us alive on that day will never forget what it was like and how we felt. You’re right: there were any ugly feelings and actions associated with the events. It was a horrible time in American history.

  2. Sonje Avatar

    I’ll also reference the time lapse from 9/11. You know I love The Onion, and they had this great headline: “18-Year-Old Fighting In Afghanistan Has 9/11 Explained To Him By Older Soldier.”

    Also, glad you liked the documentary. It does sound interesting.

  3. Kristan Avatar

    Lol thanks to both of you for commenting. When I posted this, I couldn’t help thinking people weren’t going to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

    Mm, wow, didn’t take long. And the degrees of separation are only going to grow.

    Heh. You know, there *are* a lot of boys and girls who felt compelled to join the military as a result of the impression 9/11 had on them at a young age… But impression and understanding are different.

  4. Jon Avatar

    Hard to believe that Sept. 11 hasn’t been directly felt by everyone on this planet. Of course, I think its aftermath has enough of an impact to affect everyone, even to this day.

  5. Kristan Avatar

    You know, I specified “any American life” because I wasn’t sure how much the rest of the world was really impacted. I mean in a conscious way. I’m sure there were ripple effects, but I have to wonder, does a kid in a village in India know/care about Sept 11? An old woman in Brazil? A teenager in Russia? *shrug* I’m not saying yes or no, I’m just wondering.

  6. Chris Avatar

    Finally, a voice of reason. Yes, “melodramatic” seems to be the correct adjective in the context of 9/11.

    Though I lived and worked in the US in the 1990s, I am European, now living between Europe, Australia & New Zealand. Seen from where I live the US-American reaction to 9/11 seems blown out of any reasonable proportion.

    To look at it from a different perspective: EVERY MONTH there are more people killed in traffic accidents in the US than where killed by the 9/11 attacks. Now compare how you react to both.

  7. Kristan Avatar

    “Melodramatic” isn’t what I was getting at, but you’re certainly entitled to that opinion. To me, the fact that there are numerous other tragedies of various types and on various scales does not lessen the tragedy of any particular incident.

  8. Chris Avatar

    I was in no way saying that other tragedies do lessen the tragedy that was 9/11. I am talking about the way the people and the whole country have been and still are reacting to it.

    And some of it does – in my humble opinion – deserve the adjective melodramatic, as you suggest; just as some is just outright dramatic.

    The UK and Spain e.g. have had their own 9/11 moments; their reaction has been different.

    Anyway, for someone living in the US it is coureagous to suggest that ugliness idea, and to link it to the fate of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbour.

    That does in no way take anything away from the tragedy nor the bravery of those involved.

    Just my humble opinion, seen from the other side of the world.

  9. Kristan Avatar

    Ah okay, thank you for the clarification! I better understand what you’re saying now, I think.

    The contrast to the incidents and reactions in the UK and Spain is a helpful point. I wonder what it is about the USA’s national makeup that causes such … emotional rallying.

    And I wonder if it is related in some way to what causes such violent hatred to be aimed our way. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction? Or is it just coincidental that a similar foundation of intense emotion in certain communities is now clashing with ours? (To be clear: I’m not trying to insinuate anything or place any blame. Just pondering a sad and scary situation.)