“Who is brave? He who controls his [normal] inclination.” (Avot)
The careful use of language has always been part of this writer’s approach to life. When I was a teenage, aspiring author, Dad would often look over my essays and blue pencil them extensively. He would tell me I know what you meant to write, but that is not what you wrote.
These days, it seems that I am pretty good at writing what I intend to convey. One of the things that this column may harp about too frequently is the appropriate use of language. Over the years essays have railed against the obfuscations of political correctness, the double speak of government officials and the diplomatic corps, and media’s sly attempts to change perceptions of reality through nuanced terms.
Yesterday marked the anniversary of a day that will live in infamy. To my mind 9/11 is worse than Pearl Harbor. When Japan pushed the United States into World War II with its unexpected attack, the attackers were uniformed, and the target was a United States naval station. Not so in the September Massacre. Then men used civilian aircraft that they hijacked to destroy a civilian target, the World Trade Center; and to murder thousands of unprepared, innocent, undeserving victims. All should continue to join victims' families and loved ones in mourning their loss.
Yet as much as the events of the day were upsetting and nerve-wracking, the majority of victims were not heroes. They were ordinary people, going about their daily routines, trying to earn a living and get on with their lives. Of course there were exceptions who were truly brave and heroic: office staff members who guided co workers to safety in full awareness of impending doom, members of New York’s bravest who raced up stairs to save occupants as the WTC structure weakened faster and faster, passengers of United Flight 93 who disarmed hijackers and saved a target in Washington from destruction, in the process crashing their jet into a Pennsylvania field. These hundreds of people may have been heroes, but the majority of that tragic day’s casualties were murder victims of an enemy too cowardly to fight openly, or to take open credit for cavalierly killing so many.
God knowsthere is no need to disparage those who suffered and died. It is not intended here either. However, the efforts that the United States government has gone to celebrate them is out of step. September 11 left such a terrible mark on our country that it has been renamed Patriots Day.
Why rename this anniversary Patriots Day? Are the victims of this sad day any more patriotic than the soldiers who perished in America’s too many wars? Are they more patriotic than the four chaplains who gave up life vests to other ship passenger’s after their military transport was torpedoed during World War II? Are they more patriotic than the millions who daily pledged allegiance to this country? And what of the annual Patriots Day celebration that is celebrated each April in New England to mark the contributions of the patriots who brought our country into being?
There are patriots in many situations. One need not die to display intense love for this country, its ideals and virtues. Honoring patriots is something that ought to happen frequently, not one day each year. Using an anniversary of one of the most tragic events in American history to distinguish those who died on it from the millions of patriots who have shown their love for the United States over its two hundred years thirty seven years is plain wrong. It is an artistic mischaracterization of the day.
Perhaps September 11 deserves a new name. God knows the victims should be remembered. They were loving dads, moms, brothers, sisters and children. But if we want to honor their memories effectively, the day deserves a more fitting name than the one now assigned. The victims of September 11 are owed their due, but so are the millions of other patriots who have given our country so much.