I Lost My Father on 9/11, but I Never Wanted to Be a "Victim"

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I never felt comfortable with the official rituals of 9/11 grief, with their overtones of patriotism and vengeance, so I sought other ways to use my role.
"But victimhood is not—for all that we would wish otherwise—a conveniently moral condition. This is something that those who have lived in intimate proximity to loss and mourning know or have to learn."

—Eva Hoffman, "The Long Afterlife of Loss"

Unlike most Americans who were alive that day, I do not remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I cannot recall the moment when I learned about the attacks, nor when I first understood the connection between the sudden loss of my father and the history-altering event.

I do remember, however, when I started to hide the circumstances of my father's death. I soon learned that it was easier to avoid the inevitable shock ("Oh my God, you must have been so young") and well-intentioned but misplaced desire to relate to my pain ("I remember watching the towers fall on TV"). I would try to change the subject, but my interlocutor—whether a school counselor or parent of a friend—wouldn't take the cue. Their eyes would glaze over in pity, at once distressed by the realization that it could just as easily have been them or their loved one in the towers that morning—and relieved that it wasn't.

​​That experience wasn't isolated to me or my family. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration framed the entire country as the innocent victim of an out-of-the-blue declaration of war. This framing was strategic: In painting the entire country as the wounded target of unprovoked aggressors, the Bush administration avoided drawing attention to its obvious failure to anticipate the attacks—and redeployed the memory of the 9/11 victims in service of an interventionist "War on Terror."

Mainstream media reinforced the notion that the 9/11 victims symbolized the country at large. It seemed the only way for ordinary Americans to grapple with such an inexplicable event was to find ways to identify with the victims themselves. On September 16, as the first obituaries filtered in, the New York Times editorial board…
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