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September 5, 2006

9/11 As A Long Term Loss


(full pixels here)

I greatly appreciate this latest cover of TIME.  It presumes a look back at 9/11 from a distance of 30 years.  The prominent “We” makes me think of the layout in terms of an American identify crisis.  (Time projection aside, however, isn’t the underlying point that the U.S. lost or got lost — and it didn’t take so long?)

What I find most fascinating is that the shot was captured from (and identifies America with) The Chrysler Building, whereas the most logical symbolic successor to the WTC — surely from a power standpoint, as well as from the most direct angle — would be the Empire State Building.

As elegant as it is, looking back from the Chrysler Building makes it seem like America’s place in the world, 30 years out, has become merely quaint.  (The advancing dusk also implies an “eclipsed empire,” as defined by the western sun.)

And what of the eagle — more forlorn than riveting?  I see ironic associations to (lady) liberty and to gargoyles on historical religious structures.  And then, there’s also the identification with power-obsessed totalitarian regimes.

Looking back to today, how much is the empire in eclipse because third string leadership at a key turning point turned America into a steel ornament ?

And how much is the assumption of loss an arbitrary result when, under different circumstances, the country (plus 30, or plus 5) could, as easily, have emerged stronger and facing forward?

(image: Louie Psihoyos.  TIME.  September 11, 2006.

  • Keir

    Good post. I’m glad you made the totalitarian connection with the eagle, that’s what I saw as well. It looks menacing, grim, cold, and dystopian to me.
    I am surprised that even Time is metioning 9/11 conspiracies. Personally I think it’s unnecessary to go there–conspiracy or not, there are enough uncontroversial and easily verifiable crimes of those accused of conspiracy to justify the most severe punishment. Still I find it strange to see it mentioned at Time (maybe it’s simply another distraction, like 99% of what passes for news).
    What I think “we” lost (the human we; the Americans simply lost dignity they could hardly claim anyway) is an incredible opportunity for peace (for lack of a better word). Squandered it by not doing enough to resist the response to violence with more of it. When that French newspaper claimed “we’re all Americans now” and offers of support and sympathy were pouring in from places the US has long terrorized (Cuba, Palestine etc), an enormous chance to address monumentally important issues without resorting to force was utterly squandered by everyone who failed resist the sour revenge the Americans cooked up for anyone the neocons had a desire to bomb.

  • Neal

    Lost-an opportunity to build a world consensus against terrorism. It is unlikely there will be many state-to-state wars, the biggest threat is terrorism and their actions. We are a battered eagle, rooted in spot, looking back at the “happy” past, unable to move to a new future.

  • Nezua-Limón Xolografik-Jonez

    For myself, I see the 9/11 “conspiracies” as problems with the cover story. Lack of accurate facts, the type that sew down acceptance in your belly. More than intuition that something is amiss, they reflect a bundle of troublesome and glaring absences of sense. They are now tied to the 9/11 Scholars for Truth, educated, intelligent men who have scientific problems with the official story. This is something that any caring thinking person would keep in mind, and not wish to dismiss so easily. The fact that TIME mentions this is not “distracting.” That would be like saying bringing up the smell of gas lingering after a housefire that killed your whole family was being “distracting,” when people were trying to figure out what went wrong.
    The lies involved in the story of 9/11 are crucial, and they matter, and they won’t go away. You notice that. These thoughts that all is not what it seems won’t go away. And I’m glad “even TIME” won’t let them.

    Oooh. Nice shot. And I am a sucker for a designer or fotog who knows how to use negative space. This cover really packs a punch. The judgmental or sad or imperial gargoyle. I think on the issue of its mood, we will plug in some stuff from ourselves.
    The gargoyles are ubiquitous in NYC, and you don’t even see them if you live there, because if you live there, you don’t look up. But when you first get there, you notice all the gargoyles. The gargoyles are a thing of the past, too. I don’t see any new building being built in the city with gargoyles. So it is almost as if an eye from the past, with the sanity and reasoning that America (purportedly) possessed before the Mad Bush Regime and their lovers, Al Qaeda arrived, is watching the whole mess today.
    The shot is pretty. Blues and reds, steeped in sunset. Sadness of blue….smears of pink like bloodstains on steel.
    The cover says we lost the towers first and foremost. I dare say the cover suggests we’ve lost “the day.” And the negative space seems to suggest that we’ve lost more, something unnamed, something unknown? Our innocence? Our naïveté? Something larger?
    Yet—and yet—instead of the sky growing darker atop the city as night comes on, it remains blue….for there remains hope.

  • D.

    Fantastic image; and your analysis is right on.
    Historically, though the eagle is not so much “totalitarian” as specifically- fascist (although not necesarily National Socialist/Nazi). As a device of high modernism, the blocky, industrial eagle was widely popular in the 1930s, in Germany and Italy sure, but also in the United States. A great many high-modernist buildings built in the early ’30s–in Chicago, Madison, New York, etc.–are adorned with these square-winged, imposing icons. (BTW, It’s VERY important to remember how popular the aesthetic–and ideology–of fascism was in the USA, especially among the business community, before Nazi atrocities made fascism disreputable after 1939. (and especially after 1945.)
    Unfortunately, looking at Time’s article, I don’t expect much from Niall Ferguson. As a professional historian, I’d say that his early work was solid, but lately, he’s really sold his soul, and become a panderer to popular imperialism in the worst way. (His book “Empire” is a brilliantly-written piece of propagandistic shit, and horrifically misleading, if not downright dangerous.)
    It’s unfair to criticize the Time article that I haven’t read, I know: but Ferguson has recently been a strong and overly-simplistic advocate of American imperialism abroad. If you read the time article, expect wit and drama over thoughtfulness and empathy. (And I cannot believe that Harvard just gave him a tenured professorship! Talk about sucking-up to the powers-that-be… but Harvard has always been good at that.)

  • ummabdulla

    I’ve been to New York many times, but I didn’t even know what the thing protruding from the left was… I was thinking the shiny metal looked like an old plane, or it looked like someone/something punching through the sky. I wonder how many people would know it was the Chrysler building.
    Interesting notes about the eagle icon and the popularity of fascism, D. I don’t know much about Niall Ferguson, but I seem to remember reading something of his that I wasn’t impressed with.
    Is this the sun setting on the American empire?

  • Bluegrass Poet

    Keir –
    Thank you for stating so succinctly what I mourn daily. But back in the day, as I remember it, any pleas for a nuanced response were shouted down, hooted down, even by “pundits” whose opinions I otherwise respect.
    Would it have been different if we’d had a real leader?
    Is there such a thing?

  • readytoblowagasket


  • margaret

    The eagle is the American eagle. And is it not the image of the eagle, face-on, with wings outspread, and head, defiant, with claws clutching the familiar icons of power which we see on official U.S. documents. It is a watching bird of prey, too “far away” from the target of our enemies to protect us. Out of touch with whom they were, and from where they came, and for what reason. And, ultimately, without being able to respond, effectively, to their attack.
    Our government let us down, instead of protecting us that September day. It failed us, in our greatest hour of need. It happened on George Bush’s watch. He claims to be protecting us from “the terrorists,” but he didn’t protect us from them when it would have mattered the most. The image is a very powerful
    statement of that fact.

  • gasho

    “Conspiracy Myths” right under the line about looking “back from the future”
    Time is trying to debunk the idea that the administration had a hand in 9/11 by implying that the future historians, with much more knowledge and evidence, will have put all of these ideas to bed. My Ass.
    Take the two scenarios: 1) that Bush’s America was attacked by an evildoer, who we’ve been pursuing ever since vs. 2, where the neocons had much to gain from and fostered a “new Pearl Harbor”. Now ask yourself these questions and see what makes sense: Why was Bin Laden’s family flown out of the country immediately? Why was ALL the debris recycled out of the country immediately? Why did Bush stiffle the formation of the 9/11 commission? Why wasn’t the damage to the Pentagon consistent with an airplane crash? Why haven’t we found Bin Laden? Why haven’t there been more attacks in the US? What happened to the sudden anthrax scare following 9/11? Why was the patriot act pre-written? Why didn’t the jets shoot down the planes? Why did WTC7 fall down, like the other 2 buildings, in a neat little pile? Why did we attack Iraq as a response, like the neocons had been planning for years?
    All of these make sense in one of the two scenarios – can you tell which one??

  • weisbrot

    You can’t ask these questions. Or are you a terrorist intent on destroying our freedoms and our values??

  • Dan Sumption

    It just makes me think of Ghostbusters.

  • gasho

    weisbrot – don’t even play…
    Wouldn’t you like to see that “consider these 2 scenarios and this list of facts” game played out as a national debate?
    If we don’t evaluate the situation while we can still hang the traitors, we’re setting ourselves up for decades of tyrrany.
    You know it’s true… so stop messin’ around like that.

  • Cactus

    The comments so far have been almost poetic. The picture is a lovely sunset over NYC pre-911. Will the next dawn bring destruction? The eagle is fierce, looking for prey. Is this symbolic of the end of one of the oldest democratic republics? Will the coming dawn bring destruction, ironically, by the very actions of the eagle? What have we lost? Some tall buildings in NYC? An entire city, one of the oldest in this country? The very constitution of the country itself?
    “Plus Conspiracy MYTHS” certainly tells us which side TIME comes down on. Which reminds me of the ABC mini-series “documentary” which is an attempt by the right wing writer and director to blame Clinton for the entire thing. No surprise there. What is a surprise (??) is why no putative democratic “leaders” are protesting. We certainly saw an outpouring of screaming and hollering about the “Reagan” movie, which was actually more pro-Reagan than not. And this crapola is going to be on ABC for TWO nights. ABC is sending copies to all right-wing orgs and leaders, but won’t send a copy to Clinton or Albright, etc. I wonder why?

  • weisbrot

    gasho: A national debate? Who are you kidding. This is America. Where the limits of public discourse are so narrow the term freedom of speech simply has no meaning.
    In the *real* world, what you say will simply never happen. Never.
    And I was being pseudo-silly with that terrorist remark.

  • Cactus

    To borrow from Sherry Chandler’s blog:
    “A sort of variation of what Lee Maynard said in his novels workshop at Hindman last year: your hero must have a villain worthy of him/her, some one who can take her/him through the crucible.”
    We have neither a real leader nor a real enemy. Bush and binLaden are both posers that must be propped up by the propaganda of their respective ’sides.’ BinLaden must tell his followers that the west is all the infidel and must be defeated, every last one of them. Bush tells his followers that binLaden is an islamo-faschist and equates him to nazis and commies, those two bugaboos from our past. Both building up the enemy to make that enemy an opponent worthy of all the sturm und drang of constant war-mongering.
    Bush doesn’t want to be taken through the crucible, so he elevates the bad boy relative of a family friend to the gargoyle on his construct of enemy. Every time he has to confront failure, he runs the other way. When safely at a distance, he turns and shouts, nyah nyah nyah nyah. ‘I see your infidel and raise you one islamo-fascist.’
    Is the rest of the world beginning to see this as shadow-boxing with silhouettes on a sheet in a dark room?
    Not to say terrorism isn’t real, just that we must question what we are fighting it with and how. I’m just sayin’…….

  • black dog barking

    Saw this cover on a news stand, so full of light I wanted to reach out and touch it. Everything below the sky is man made. From our lofty vantage we see nothing not built or manufactured, as night falls the city lights itself. That river of exposure-blurred taillights in the street canyon far beneath us charts the energies that built and maintain this vast city-sculpture.
    For me the brilliance of the photo works against the magazine’s editorial intent. What We Lost? Are you kidding? Look at what we have left! Against all the blue the eagle could be the prow of a sailing ship. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
    The conspiracy stuff at the bottom of the page is a herring, something to talk about that isn’t the complete failure of our national response to the attacks five years ago: the pinnacle squandered moment in an unbroken six year string of squandered opportunities. What we really lost.

  • Lightkeeper

    >> “Not to say terrorism isn’t real, just that we must question what we are fighting it with and how. I’m just sayin’…….”
    These disclaimers really must stop.
    I agree with almost everything you said, Cactus. On a slight tangent: Jonathan Cook, a British journalist in Nazareth, writes:
    ‘But what if the war on terror is not really about separating the good guys from the bad guys, but about deciding what a good guy can be allowed to say and think?
    What if the “Islamic fascism” President Bush warns us of is not just the terrorism associated with Osama bin Laden and his elusive al-Qaeda network but a set of views that many Arabs, Muslims and Pakistanis — even the odd humanist — consider normal, even enlightened? What if the war on “Islamic fascism” is less about fighting terrorism and more about silencing those who dissent from the West’s endless wars against the Middle East?
    …Sitting in London or New York, the news that Gaza lost 151 souls, most of them civilians, last month to Israeli bombs and bullets passes us by. It is after all just a number, even if a high one. At best, a number like that from a place we don’t know, suffered by a people whose names we can’t pronounce, makes us pause, even sigh with regret. But it cannot move us to anger.
    And anyway, our news bulletins are too busy to concentrate on more than one atrocity at a time. This month it is Lebanon. Next month it will probably be Iran. Then maybe it will be back to Baghdad or the Palestinians. The horror stories sound so much less significant, the need for action so less pressing, when each is unrelated to the next. Were we to watch the Arab channels, where all the blood and suffering blends into a single terrible Middle Eastern epic, we might start to make connections, and maybe suspect that none of this happens by accident.’
    Now let’s return to the disclaimer above: What does it mean to ‘fight’ terrorism?
    1) How can you fight something you created in the first place?
    2) How can you fight something when you continue to create it?
    3) How can you fight something if you need it to continue for a stable status quo?
    These questions of course are, in a way, one and the same. One other thing to keep in mind is that, technically, ‘terrorism’ per se does not exist. These days, it is almost impossible to remember that terrorism is not an ideology but simply a mode of action. So when Bush makes these all pervading speeches about ending the scourge of terrorism and all that, what he is saying is simply impossible. Not just impossible, but a gross perversion of reality. There is no evil scourge, there are men (sometimes women) using violence or thinking of using violence in response to insitutionalized violence – these men and women will always exist, but they will not always be engaged in terrorism. Anyone, literally anyone, can be a ‘terrorist’. Thus the entire world can be implicated in Bush’s statements, since anyone can at anytime be a terrorist.
    I’m really starting to think this word needs to go. It is propoganda, pure and simple. Or, if you find yourself uncomfortable with the fascist associations of the word ‘propoganda’, it is just healthy American public relations.

  • Aunt Deb

    Did anyone else find the odd ‘ruff’ around the eagle’s neck disconcertingly reminiscent of fingers strangling it? Or some sort of handcuff? Unsettling picture, in some way. Very ‘pretty’ but no point of view, in a sense.

  • Megan

    The ruff is a yoke restraining the eagle. Is the eagle our American freedoms, now contained in the aftermath of 9/11? Or was the eagle rushing to the defense of the city of New York, but leashed and held back by something? I can’t tell which, but that eagle is going nowhere and the sky is so big.

  • jt from BC

    Benjamin Franklin comments;
    “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
    “With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .
    “I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

  • readytoblowagasket

    The title of the original photo is The Guardian. In the original, the eagle is watching over the tranquil city of New York, not just the Twin Towers. TIME lopped off the entire West Side of Manhattan in order to achieve an eagle-eye focus on the towers.
    The effect, of course, is to take a *New York* photograph and make it represent the entire United States. And that’s the ultimate 9/11 myth. New York is *not* the rest of the country. Sure, New York is fun to visit, but the fact is, the majority of the country HATES New York. Remember? Remember how most of you hate New York? All the dirt and the homeless people and the rude taxi drivers and the prices (my GOD, the PRICES!)? Why would anyone *want* to live there, you wonder privately. You forgot you hated it, didn’t you?
    You forget when you buy into the biggest 9/11 myth of all, which is that the World Trade Center = the U.S. The WTC didn’t *ever* equal the rest of the country (the proof was in its name). And the reality is, there never was much reason for tourists to go to that part of lower Manhattan, except to the observation deck on top of the South Tower. Until it was gentrified in the late ’90s, that neighborhood was a little woolly for most tourists. So there wasn’t boundless universal love for the WTC before 9/11.
    I’m not suggesting that people don’t feel sympathy for the victims of 9/11. I’m trying to make a different point, one that has to do with reality rather than fantasy. New York does not represent the rest of the country. It never has, and it never will.
    The 9/11 hijackers did not attack America. They attacked New York and Washington, D.C. If they truly wanted to attack America in a symbolic way, they should have crashed a plane into a soybean field in Iowa. (Conveniently, one plane *did* go down in a field in rural America, although that wasn’t the intended destination for the hijackers.) George Bush is the real terrorist and the media his accomplices, and we in our traumatized stupor believed this original lie (“America Under Attack”), from which all other lies were born.
    Oh, look: The cover is red, white, and blue! What are the chances of that happening on the 9/11 anniversary?!
    To see The Guardian in all its spectacular glory, go to Louie Psihoyos’s website, click Portfolio, then Location.
    And by the way, TIME could not have come up with a more America-centric idea than: “How our response to 9/11 shaped the century.” Well of COURSE America shaped the entire century already! Who else could?
    Bravo, TIME. Just keep feeding us the fantasies.

  • ummabdulla

    Cactus: “Bush doesn’t want to be taken through the crucible, so he elevates the bad boy relative of a family friend to the gargoyle on his construct of enemy.”
    This is nothing new, though. I can’t even remember all of them (Qaddafi, Khomeini, Grenada), but remember when Noriega was the bogeyman, the dangerous enemy who had to be eliminated? NORIEGA? Among other things, they said he had pictures of Hitler, which turned out to be in a Time-Life coffee table book about World War II or something? And now Bush is trying to equate bin Laden with Hitler.

  • Aunt Deb

    Excellent, readytoblowagasket.

  • Cactus

    Lightkeeper said: “One other thing to keep in mind is that, technically, ‘terrorism’ per se does not exist. These days, it is almost impossible to remember that terrorism is not an ideology but simply a mode of action.” Exactly! That is why many think that the way to react to acts of terrorism is with good solid police work….just as the British have done.
    When W makes those speeches about terrorism, he is not just creating a phony enemy, he is defining who is a terrorist and by extension what acts constitute terrorism. He and his cronies are, by the mis-use of language, broadening the terrorist term to include speech and dissent against his administration. If we let him get away with it we will all be terrorists.
    rtbag is right, we all hate NYC. It’s the phenomenon of big dog vs. little dog. New York is the rotweiller and can’t be bothered by all us collies and pekes. We have the same phenom in CA: San Francisco hates LA, but LA barely notices SanFran. So, yes, all the current hyping about the fifth anniversary seems to us like a lot of whining. And behind that we suspect W is using all the sympathy he can conjure as justification for yet more absorption of our rights.
    ummabdulla, I admit we’ve had some pretty lame presidents in the past half century. I always thought the Noriega thing was to shut him up. How else to justify kidnapping a foreign head of state and imprisoning him in one of our jails?

  • Jonathan Berhow

    Wow! Some of the best comments regarding this pic that I’ve ever read on this blog (especially Margaret, Gasho, Cactus, Lightkeeper, and RtBaG). Thanks.
    The more I think about this picture and the more I reflect on the observations made above, the more I see this entire piece – the photo, the text, and the Niall Ferguson article – as more conservative than was my first impression: “[Our] head is bloodied but unbowed” (stealing a line from Paul Newman as Gov. Earl Long in “Blaze.”) What has led me to this impression?
    First the comments already made: the red-white-and-blue; the solipsism of reshaping the century; the conclusion that the conspiracies are myths (as if conspiracy was not a dismissive enough term in itself); the city still thriving despite any distance, fascism, weakness, and/or anachronism of the militant bird of prey. American exceptionalism and empire seem very much still intact. What we may have here is perhaps more of a Kennedy/Clinton notion of American empire: ultimately pursuing the same goals as their conservative counterparts but leaning more toward a Peace Corps/”humanitarian intervention” tack and away from the overt, militaristic hegemony and international power projection of neocon hawks.
    Second, what was I was really having trouble with in reconciling a liberal or genuinely self-reflective impression of the cover was that the analyst chosen to provide the reader with a solid historical perspective on this event is Niall Ferguson. Although I would not call him a neocon, he is in the ballpark. And to be fair, unlike most neocons (with the exception of Stephen Metz of the AEI), he is a conservative worth reading – although his understanding of welfare is surprisingly simplistic. His basic message to America is, “Hey, you guys are an empire whether you like it or not. Why not start behaving accordingly.” In “The Cash Nexus,” for example, he concludes that the US may lack the will (i.e. moral force) necessary to sustain a healthy, responsible, even benevolent world empire like the British had before them. The selection of Ferguson is very important here because he is the historian who is advising Time’s readers on how to think historically on this issue. Why pick an historian with a message like Ferguson has for Americans? Ask why not historian Howard Zinn looking back 30 years, or Patricia Nelson Limerick, or Tom Engelhardt, or Marilyn Young, or Mary Dudziak, or Chalmers Johnson (you may all like to check out some great recent interviews with Johnson by Tom Engelhardt at Too bad Edward Said is dead. That would really be pushing it for Time’s audience.
    Politically, what this piece may represent (and if Kevin Phillips’ understanding of political cycles as expressed in “The Emerging Republican Majority” is at all accurate) is a shift toward the Democrats. This in no way means that anything essential will change – the GWOT ain’t going away anytime soon. In this time of not undeserved Bush-bashing, it is important to remember that much of the institutional and policy groundwork for American empire over the last 70 years was laid under the FDR and Truman administrations, or that the pro-Diem lobby group, the American Friends of Vietnam, had many prominent liberal members like Max Lerner, Sen. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger, etc. It may be time now for some of these kinds of folks to take the reins. Rest assured, they will not neglect to sport the requisite American flag lapel pin.

  • Chris

    An imperial eagle reminiscent of Rome…though it reminds me more of a vulture just waiting hungrily, especially with that “collar”…or perhaps the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal?

  • ummabdulla

    The world in 2031: How September 11 could shape our future
    Last week, the Harvard academic Niall Ferguson offered an optimistic prediction of how our world could look, 30 years after the September 11 attacks. But is the future really so rosy? Will our society and way of life survive the traumas of war, terrorism and climate change? Here, three leading historians look ahead – to a time we can only imagine
    Published: 11 September 2006

  • Cactus

    I just came across this image of the Chrysler Building in 1930 by Margaret Bourke-White:

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