While driving home last night, I heard a short piece on NPR about today’s 9/11 commemoration. It said that today we would do acts of community service and other good deeds to remember and honor the people who died on September 11, 2001. I don’t know who came up with this idea, or even how long it has been around. It feels like another form of community building sweet talk, like Boston Strong after the Boston marathon bombings. It feels like putting a candy coating on an apple that’s rotten right through.
We all value community service. It’s a virtue that generates a lot of benefits for the people involved. We also value the truth. That virtue also generates a lot of benefits. It generates benefits for us because it is uncomfortable. Now we have to ask whether working in a soup kitchen today is a good way to remember the people who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. If your aim is to promote New York Strong – a publicly promoted sense of resilience that a cataclysm like 9/11 unites us – then this kind of symbolic community service may be a good thing. Helping others is a good in itself, but the feel good PR feels wrong. Our collective memory of the 9/11 cataclysm and its causes ought to unite us. Thinking up ways to commemorate 9/11, when we don’t even know how the crime was committed, feels wrong. What is not good is thinking that we honor 9/11 victims when we swallow our government’s prevarication about why they died. Suppose Lincoln had laced his address at Gettysburg with falsehoods about what happened there. Suppose someone murders your spouse, your son or your daughter, and the coroner’s report about the cause of death is plainly incorrect, plainly designed to disguise what actually happened. Suppose your government lies to you at every turn about what it is up to. Is commemorative community service a good response to dishonesty so endemic we hardly recognize it any more? To honor 9/11 victims, discover why they died. To discover why they died, do not accept any explanation, evidence or report that originates with our government. Deception and dishonesty about what happened on 9/11 is dishonor enough. When we go along with efforts to hide what caused three steel framed skyscrapers to explode and collapse, we help the government out. If we want to honor 9/11 victims, we have to uncover the truth about why they died.