Move On

Sure, those horrific 9/11 images are rolling again, but an old vet says to get a grip

And it doesn't soften the shock, anger and fear millions of Americans felt while watching endless reruns of those jetliners hitting the twin towers or looking at news photos of trapped office workers who decided to jump to certain death rather than wait for flames and smoke to take life from them.

But for millions of other Americans -- those who don't have a friend or loved one serving in Afghanistan; those who didn't lose somebody in the twin towers; those who don't even have a friend of a friend who was directly touched by the horror of this attack -- 9/11 has become a late unpleasantness they either ignore or deal with in a way that short-circuits deeper thought or a true confrontation with the fear and anxiety it has caused.

Far easier to stick a flag decal on the bumper sticker, keep rooting for the Cards and pull the family deeper into that suburban cocoon than it is to figure out why you don't feel as safe as you once did.

"That gnawing sense of insecurity -- that's what we're going to have to deal with," says the Reverend Scott Lohse, pastor of the Mount Zion United Methodist Church in West County. "We're going to have to deal with this for a long time to come, and we don't really want to unless we're forced to. It's almost like a family who has lost a relative but doesn't get to view the body before burial. You don't want to believe it unless you're forced to deal with it."

Like many church leaders in the St. Louis area, Lohse is planning a special noontime service for today. He's also scheduled a series of Sunday-night airings of Bill Moyers' On Our Own Terms, a PBS program about dealing with grief. He thinks most Americans are still stuck in the first stages of the grieving process -- shock, anger and denial -- and don't know how to get to the next level -- acceptance -- and truly get on with their lives.

"The anger stage of our national grief causes us to be more accepting of racism, hatred and violence than we were before," he says. "We're more willing to engage in this because we're afraid, we're scared. When you're angry and you don't know who to be mad at -- that has to be dealt with."

But this is a busy land of plenty with a famously short attention span and a national refusal to engage with the outside world that sometimes crosses the line into xenophobia. Americans tend to forgive and forget -- Germany and Japan were mortal enemies almost 60 years ago; they're valued allies and trading partners now. Carrying a centuries-old blood grudge like the hatred between Bosnians and Serbs or the abiding memory of Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks is foreign to most Americans -- even though it took the South a long time to ever like a Yankee again.

It is both a curse and a strength, says Christopher Gustave, an artist who created "September Cross" in the wake of 9/11, a collage of stylized e-mail and newspaper text surrounding a cross made of scraps of machined brass. So is our concern with safety, he says.

"We're living in a country where security is the utmost concern," he says. "It's a rational reaction, but it's not really living. Life was never safe. Reacting to this as if you're shocked it could happen here is just silly."

That's Dunham's point. The old vet is clear-eyed about the nonsense he sees, from talk about war with Iraq, which he opposes, to chest-thumping patriotism, which causes him to snort in disgust.

"I'm not a big flag-waver myself," he says. "Just because you wave a flag doesn't make you a patriot. An imposter can fly a flag just as well as anybody else."

Move on, he says.

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