9/11: an unexpected parochial perspective

My wife had forgotten to email something home to herself and it was pressing, so yesterday evening before dinner I drove her over to campus. She's a professor and her department caters to graduate students only. We were on our way to her office when we ran into a couple of her students, there for an evening class with another professor. We're in New York State at a state university, so the students tend to be in-state.

The conversation was pretty short as their class was about to start, but one of the topics it ran to was 9/11. We were talking about my daughter, who has a history teacher she likes, unusual because she does not like the subject. The teacher used to be a helicopter-based traffic reporter in NYC and was in the air over Manhattan on 9/11. That's a perspective I'd love to hear about, but that's not the perspective in the title.

The students talked about being very young when it happened, like about seven years old. That was enough of a curve - I'm getting old. One of the students was from Long Island, obviously pretty close to the events, and he said something completely unexpected:

He thought of 9/11 as a local phenomenon, by which I mean strictly local. He made a remark indicating that he didn't think people in the rest of the country paid much attention to it. I stopped him and said the phenomenon absolutely was not local. He replied that, you know, I mean people out on the Midwest who have no local connection to New York.

I was in Indiana on 9/11 and told him so. People there sure didn't view it as local. I wouldn't assume any Americans did but I guess if you're seven years old you don't know that and maybe no one ever tells you.

Having grown up in New York, I'm aware of how parochial it is. That old New Yorker cover with the world map was barely exaggerated - if you're not from New York, you won't understand how barely.

It's funny how diametrically opposite my perspective on 9/11 is from that of my wife's student. As a former New Yorker but one who has spent most of my life out of New York, I'm conscious of how it's viewed. One phenomenon that really struck me about 9/11 - and which I never saw discussed anywhere - was how New York's metaphorical location changed. At 8:00 AM on 9/11, most of the country thought of Manhattan as maybe a hundred miles West of France. Four hours later it might as well have been next to Omaha or Oklahoma City. It went from being distrusted as too foreign and too disconnected from Real America to being the most American location on the planet in the course of a morning.

I'd have told the student that people knew where they were on 9/11 like they did when the Kennedy assassination happened but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't get it.

Views: 332

Comment by alsoknownas on September 13, 2017 at 6:59am

This whole "getting old" meme is really bugging me.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 13, 2017 at 7:33am

It predates memes

I'm a bit freaked talking to adults who were little children during such a recent event

Comment by Ron Powell on September 13, 2017 at 8:39am

Until 9/11 NYC was, in fact, the most American location on the planet to everyone in the world except Americans.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 13, 2017 at 10:14am


I'm not saying that America as a whole didn't react to 9/11. That would be way more than bullshit. The world reeled. Tehran had pro-American protests. It led to one war and was a half-assed excuse for another. Please.

My surprise is that a young man who was too young to experience it fully but experienced it as a local event assumes the concern/impact was overwhelmingly local. 

The student isn't from backwards Upstate, he's from Long Island. 


I agree. 

Comment by Anna Herrington on September 13, 2017 at 10:19am

So parochial it's assumed anyone would even know that cover of The New Yorker.... ha!

(I looked it up.)

It's what I dislike the most when my New York family visits, their walking around disdaining any food etc. as inferior as it's not from The City. I usually reply there must be something special in those giant rat turds seasoning everything over there in NYC.... that usually shuts them up.

Comment by Anna Herrington on September 13, 2017 at 10:21am

Oh, as far as this kid goes, well, no idea what to add there, really. Seems like how any kid's mind might go, directly to them and their world. only.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 13, 2017 at 10:23am


You're right about the cover. It's just that it was so widely imitated, with everywhere coming out with posters of their own versions for their own home towns. Still, my parochialism. 

Did you have any trouble finding it?

Comment by Anna Herrington on September 13, 2017 at 10:28am

Not at all hard to find. Just had to tease a tiny bit.

My sister who visited this summer (for the first time since my youngest was born, he turns 20 this winter) said our house is epidemic with teaser types....

and the illustration is rather perfect for NY mindset, to their loss  ; )

Comment by Anna Herrington on September 13, 2017 at 10:29am

I said their loss rather than your loss as you got out, saw the world, lived in NC....

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on September 13, 2017 at 11:16am

I think, perhaps, we see, even as adults, partially at least, through the far more limited emotional lenses we had as youngsters living through cultural traumas. 


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