Within days of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans told each other, “We will never forget”: a wish, and command, as much as a statement of fact. But how should we remember?
An Instragram tribute from actor Adrian Grenier sparked both appreciation and outrage, setting the tone for an anniversary weekend of not only mourning, but controversy, as Americans wrestled with the day's legacy fourteen years after the attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Grenier, best known for his lead role in HBO’s "Entourage," posted a somber drawing of the Twin Towers on Friday, September 11, accompanied by a brief message:
R.I.P. the 2,996 Americans who died in 9/11. R.I.P. the 1,455,590 innocent Iraqis who died during the U.S. invasion for something they didn't do.
Although some viewers quibbled over his numbers, most of the flood of comments were inspired by gratitude or fury that he dared mention Iraqi deaths in the same breath. The image soon disappeared, replaced by new photographs and messages, likely intended to soothe his critics, and garnering nearly 9000 'likes':
In challenging moments and times of mourning, we must seek perspective to help us find peace within our choices forward. #911.
However, the debate continued in users’ comments, soon carrying over into mainstream media.
Grenier’s tribute was not the only one to get people talking on social media. After the Lumberton, Texas high school cheer squad posted a video of their latest routine, meant to honor those killed on 9/11, it quickly went viral, viewed over 23 million times on Facebook.
The squad’s intent seems unabashedly patriotic: the 9/11 tribute is an annual team tradition, and ends in a “USA” formation with the American flag flying behind. Throughout, a remix of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” plays, remixed with sound clips from 9/11 broadcasts and George W. Bush’s public address.
While plenty of fans loved the tribute, others criticized it as “cringeworthy” and “tasteless,” although comments were not as explicitly political as Grenier’s detractors'.
Meanwhile, at ground zero in New York City, mourners assembled for the traditional, and traditionally solemn, reading of names. While the ceremony is held at the Twin Towers’ empty footprints, now reflecting pools, this year brought two new backdrops: the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which opened last May, and the recently-finished 1 World Trade Center skyscraper.
According to The Washington Post, victims' families voiced concerns that the Museum, which hosted 2.7 million visitors in its first year, threatened to change the character of what many consider their loved ones’ burial ground, a place for sanctuary and reflection.
Ground Zero is undoubtably a "site to see" in New York, but some families have long feared that it would one day feel more "touristy," and criticized the Museum’s gift shop in particular.
Joe Daniels, president and CEO, defends the 9/11 Museum as an “incredible educational tool to show the broader context of this event.” Its historic purpose, however, may reveal a rift between those ready to consider 9/11 in “broader context” and those for whom it remains a personal tragedy.
Among Grenier’s later Instragram posts for the anniversary is a simple pair of columns, resting atop the word “Pause.” A reminder to remember, but also, perhaps, a call to reflect on how we do so.