How to remember Sept. 11 has set off a hard debate. Many who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks are demanding that the mass grieving and reading of names remain a national ritual. Others, however, want to lower the volume and make the remembrance more about the event than the 2,880 individuals who died as a result.
It was inevitable that even for a horror like Sept. 11, the edge would wear off. Six years have passed.
This argument says a lot about America’s modern culture of public mourning. Roadside memorials pop up at sites of fatal traffic accidents. Parents whose children died from violence or disease try to place memorials in town centers – right next to plaques with names of soldiers who perished in war.
Not everyone likes this trend. And in the case of the 9- 11 survivors, some families seem to have crossed a line into self-dramatization and an unseemly money chase based on what they consider their unique grief.
Congress set up the Victim Compensation Fund to give families an alternative to suing the airlines whose hijacked planes were turned into terrorist missiles. Its intention was good – to save the airlines from ruinous lawsuits.
The fund has paid $6 billion to the survivors, an average of $2 million per victim. About 97 percent of the victims’ families signed on.
But a few did not accept the government’s offer and instead chose to sue. Some responded to trial lawyers who advertised for their business, often appealing to the families’ sense of grievance, greed or both. These cases will finally be heard late this month in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. One thing is sure, though: The general public is not into the plaintiffs’ grief the way it once was.
The holdouts tend to be families who lost a child or older relative in the mayhem. They complained that the fund took into consideration the victims’ lost income, which meant that survivors of non-working people – such as children or retirees – would be given less money. No family, however, received less than $250,000, and the awards were all taxfree.
One parent who sued the airlines was quoted as follows: “To me, it just smelled of dishonesty. How do you justify, OK, an 11-year-old is worth $2, but because you’re the pilot of that plane, that’s worth $2 million.”
A question to the parent is, “How do you justify putting any price on your child?” The fund tried to approximate what families could have received suing an airline. It did not attempt to compare the intrinsic human worth of the victims, which is impossible.
Children die tragically every day. Their parents usually don’t collect anything from federal taxpayers, yet no one accuses the public of cheating them.
As for the airlines’ culpability, is it reasonable to blame the carriers for not knowing on Sept. 10 that they should frisk passengers for box cutters?
Perhaps some of the survivors have become addicted to the extraordinary amount of attention that’s come their way. They’ve lost perspective on the significance of their sorrows, relative to those of others.
Some 9-11 survivors understand that, at some point, their loss is no longer communal. “The grieving part has to become more personal,” Lesli Rice, whose mother died in the attacks, told The New York Times. “The whole city wasn’t affected by my mother’s death.”
Untimely death visits most families. While the 9-11 victims perished in an especially spectacular manner, their survivors, in the end, must swim in the same vale of tears as everyone else. They may always grieve their loss, but the public has the right to move on. ©2007 The Providence Journal Co.