I never knew Francisco Miguel Mancini, though I hope to one day.
Whether we’re related or not remains unknown. I wouldn’t have this vague connection had I not traveled across the country to discover our shared surname among those engraved at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
I’ll spare you the overused Rooseveltian cliche. Looking back on this day of inferno, I’m reminded of my six-year-old self waking up for school only for my mom to say classes were canceled for the day. I recollect not watching Cartoon Network or Disney Channel that morning, per our early morning ritual then, but of two twin buildings emitting volcanic ash clouds of the kind I was used to seeing from programs speculating on the dinosaurs’ extinction. Notably absent – and a fleeting sign of gut-wrenching stress – was my father, gone on a business trip in Europe to then watch one of America’s earliest 21st century nightmares from a continent away. Upon his return, we welcomed him more happily than we ever had before.
The gravity of that day weighed further down on me as the “Global War on Terror” zeitgeist echoed through my ears as I grew up: national security, “enhanced interrogation,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, UBL (“Usama” Bin Laden), WMDs, Gitmo, “Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” and so on. Repeated viewings of National Geographic documentaries and even a Nicolas Cage movie painted something my schools appeared too afraid to achieve: to educate my peers and I about the events of that defining day.
Each year there’s the reminder of how that day was a moment of unity for the United States, a point that however tangible it felt at the time just looks so improbable. Dear friends of mine have noted the fear they’ve experienced at the hatred towards them since 9/11: for being Indian American, for their Middle Eastern ancestry, for their Islamic faith. Twenty years and that continues to be a mark on that sign of “solidarity” when George W. Bush rallied Americans at Ground Zero with the prophetic words, “The people who knocked all these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Such a tone – like any scapegoating drivel from every tragedy of the past century: World War I, Pearl Harbor, COVID-19 – seeps through the cracks and chokes our perceived unity.
I will also spare a regurgitation of the ensuing wars and recent military withdrawals between 2011 and 2021, however there deserves to be pause when you consider the lives lost and how hallowed they are. Despite its flaws (with which I encourage you to read David Klion’s piece in New York Magazine to learn more), the museum and memorial in Manhattan puts you in the shoes, seats and steps of countless witnesses to and victims of that day. I couldn’t hide the moment of anguish I felt hearing the audio from passengers telling loved ones “I love you so much, baby.” As I felt with Francisco, you feel closer to the victims than you ever would have in your life.
It’s a pain all too relatable, and yet we have those among us who refuse to accept it. Even in such a region as patriotic as the Santa Clarita Valley, crackpot 9/11 Truthers have a presence here (I recall questioning a truther’s humanity upon their immediate doubt that three planes ever crashed across the East Coast, and my banning from a local Facebook community page left me bereft at how I was in the wrong for speaking clear, agonizing truth to heartless pond scum. C’est la vie, I didn’t look back). It was a reminder of the societal fractures we’re living through now exacerbated by COVID-19 where if we experienced such another 9/11, that “unity” would not come again. Besides, 650,000 lives later and anyone considering the belief of an “American consensus” must really be pulling your leg.
Where does this all lead? Well, other than rethinking the Global War on Terror, all we have left is the history. Two decades and we’ve fulfilled whatever we set out for at the cost of our own sustainability. Set aside the patriotism, the ignorance and the nihilism, and just look inward. How better are we now versus then? How much better off are we as a country, worse off as a planet, or vice versa? As with other historical tragedies, “never forget” is echoed annually on Sept. 11; we may never forget, but do we remember? A long, severe look in the mirror is in order.
On this occasion, the foreboding final paragraphs of the 2012 book “The Operators,” written by the late contributing editor of Rolling Stone Michael Hastings, leave a more historiographical palette we’re in need of. He wrote this shortly after the May 2, 2011, assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
“That night, I thought of all the dead, and what adding Bin Laden’s name to the list actually meant… The memorial services with grown men crying over empty boots. The memorial service with me crying over an empty coffin. The explosions in hotels and government office buildings. I thought of the operators, all of us who’d made our careers off Bin Laden’s horror show… and even the president himself, who’d ridden to power on an antiwar tide. I thought of the harsh judgment history was going to one day render on us all.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author do NOT reflect those of The Proclaimer or Radio Free Santa Clarita, its board and supporters.