All autumns have a return-to-reality quality to them, and this one especially so. The season inevitably revolved around September 11, the first anniversary of the most lethal attack against Americans in America since the War of 1812. There must have been tens of thousands of individual community and religious ceremonies across the country, so presumably a lot of mediocre speeches were delivered, but the network television coverage, which is how we experience events on a national level, featured little mediocre speechmaking, and, astonishingly and wonderfully, the anchors to a great degree let the day speak for itself. The effect was to force one back to the raw fact of what happened a year ago.
The day before the anniversary Susan Sontag, writing in The New York Times and exhibiting all the sensitivity and intelligence that have graced her previous utterances on this subject, sniffed that real wars did not require commemorations, and that the fact that there would be events marking September 11 proved that what we were in now was only a "pseudo-war." The core of the commemoration in New York was the reading of the names of the murdered by family members and other speakers standing on a stage in front of the pit of what used to be the World Trade Center. They read all 2,801 names, and CBS, which was what I watched, showed for almost every one of the dead a photograph, the name printed out, and the age at death. The cameras broadcast the scene as families made their way down a ramp into the pit to lay flowers on the ground, and to mourn for a while. The litany took several hours, which provided ample time to contemplate the dimensions of suffering involved in the crime that began the war that Ms. Sontag regards as pseudo. So many dead, so many lives blighted, so much weeping. Some pseudo.