put the flags away

Today marks two years since the unthinkable happened on American soil. Over two thousand people died. Hundreds more would go on to die as a result of illness caused by toxic fumes they inhaled that day. Hundreds more than that would die as soldiers in the ensuing War On Terror.

So why are people buying merchandise to commemorate this event?

I first saw a September 11 t-shirt less than 48 hours after the second tower fell. Someone on campus thought enough of this tragedy to buy a simple white shirt to commemorate the occasion. As the weeks wore on, peddlers of chintz slapped "9-11-01" on everything from souvenir license plates to sneakers. As the War On Terror began, so did the peddling of Osama Bin Laden urinal pads. What I find most appalling about all of this is that there was a captive audience who just gobbled up this crap. Some of the proceeds went to charity, but most of them went to owners of Taiwanese factories cranking out American-flag goods by the boatload.

And these goods are still with us.

Every day as I walk to work, I pass by windows where patriotic Americans placed the American flags that were printed in their newspapers just under two years ago. The flags are now a faded memory, their colors bleached and the paper yellowed from constant exposure to sunlight. I see cars with bumper stickers bragging about how we need to bomb everyone and let God sort the bodies out. Cheap t-shirts sold on the street now mix "These Colors Don't Run" with witty 12-year-old slogans like "Saddam Hussein? So damn insane!"

Please, for the love of all that is holy: stop buying this crap. Put it away already. My family and I were swept up in the moment: we proudly displayed the flag in our window and sang along with "God Bless America" in the later months of 2001. But like all New Yorkers, we recognized the need to get back to work. The economy has been through some rough times, but now shows signs of recovery. Had we wallowed in our despair, brushing away tears with commemorative Twin Towers tissues, our nation would have been defeated. America rose to the occasion and picked up the pieces. Now we need to move forward.

There will always be people trying to make a quick buck. Even the recent blackout prompted profiteers to print t-shirts. Those shirts will quickly end up in the trash after serving their proper role as punch lines for late-night comedy shows. The patriotic buying spree that splashed red, white, and blue on everything imaginable is tiresome. We all know how important New York City is, but New York is alive and well. Let's get on with our lives already.

We do not celebrate the days when people die. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we are to look back on our past and remember those whom we have lost. It pains me to see so many paper and plastic tchotchkes, July 4 playthings with "NYC 911" hastily scrawled on them, still dotting our way of life.

Perhaps the most comparable American day to this anniversary is Pearl Harbor day, the first "day that will live in infamy." On December 7, scarcely a word is said any more about the lives lost during that fateful morning more than 60 years ago. Simple memorial services and tributes mark the day. I sincerely doubt that on December 7, 1942, people were driving themselves down to the local megastore to buy American flag napkins and arrogant bumper stickers. While America has come a long way since World War II, it still hasn't learned how to eat humble pie.

I wrote some words about this day in 2001 (http://weill.org/aspects/2001/09/29/) and didn't mention it at all in anything I wrote in September 2002. This, I would hope, is the last I have to mention of that day.