This diary is a submission for Progressive Historians’ symposium on 9/11. Details here.
Let’s look at two famous articles from the immediate aftermath of the events in the U.S. on 9/11/2001.
The first, and the more famous of the two as being emblematic of international attitude, was the front-page editorial on France’s Le Monde: “Nous Sommes Tous Américains” (We’re All Americans), by Jean-Marie Colombani. The article is often cited as a sign of world solidarity behind the United States in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (the latter often left out of discussions, for whatever reason), and the failed attack on the White House. This was the main headline on the largest-circulation newspaper in the most traditionally anti-American of our allies.
The second, and the source of an endlessly regurgitated soundbite over the following years, was an article in Vanity Fair by Graydon Carter predicting the new age of sincerity, a sentiment soon echoed in newspapers around the country. Carter (and others) were convinced that among the ways the United States would change irrevocably was in the adoption of a new seriousness in our attitudes, and an inability to treat everyday life with the same flimsy, fluffy detachment that had been so “cool”. In Time, Roger Rosenblatt gave the sentiment its most repeated form: after so great a tragedy, irony was dead.
It’s easy enough to criticize these sentiments with the benefit of hindsight, just as it’s easy to score a quick laugh by juxtaposing the two soundbites in the title (as I did, shamelessly). What interests me instead are two phenomena: the way the myths of those articles have overshadowed the articles themselves (and their contexts), and the strange fittingness of Colombani’s title – whether he intended it or not.