Violence and Memory

Getting the man is almost mythological.

by David Morgan

Late one night the President of the United States suddenly appears on television. In our post-9/11 world, the first guess about why is a terrorist attack. It’s too late in the evening for a planned appearance. I brace for images and bad news. But the President announces the death of Osama bin Laden. After ten years of searching, the U.S. government has found the facilitator of the attacks of September 11, and only moments ago executed him on the spot. He might have waited until morning to herald the news, but President Obama acts promptly in order to take charge of the news cycle. He dares not delay, for the Internet will spread the news around the globe, leaving the administration to appear reticent, or worse, timid. The news is capital to be spent to great effect. And the margin of time in which to do so is pressing. These are the days of immediate, global ubiquity. There is no local news. A preacher burns a copy of the Qur’an in Florida and there are riots in the cities of Afghanistan. Indeed, the top-secret helicopter assault on Bin Laden’s compound is simulcast by a local tweeter.

In breaking the news, the president spent the first moment of his remarks eliciting images, a collage of images that Americans harbor in their mind’s eye, “seared into our national memory,” as Obama put it: “hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.” We walk about with a common archive in our heads, placed there by the public artifacts of modern life. Continue Reading →