Cancel the 9/11 Freedom Walk
With New Orleans and the Gulf States in ruins, now is not the time for purely symbolic acts, especially not cynical ones.
That's why President Bush and the Pentagon should cancel the so-called Freedom Walk scheduled for Sunday, September 11.
From its inception, the Freedom Walk has been controversial. Putting only thinnest veneer of patriotism over pure politics, the Freedom Walk was designed to explictly link 9/11 with the war in Iraq. Starting at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, registered marchers will walk to the National Mall where festivities will end with a concert by country star Clint Black.
For a Bush administration dealing with plummeting poll numbers and majority opposition to its strategy for Iraq, the intent of the Freedom Walk is clear: rebuild support for the President and the Iraq conflict by going to the 9/11 well one more time. Cementing the fictional linkage between 9/11 and Iraq is central to the event, as the Freedom Walk web site clearly states:
The America Supports You FREEDOM WALK is a walk of remembrance and support. Remembrance of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon, Twin Towers, and Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, and support of the many American men and women in uniform, past and present, who protect our freedom.
While everyone of course supports the troops, their use as political pawns by the Bush administration has rightly raised howls. Many questioned the purpose of participant registration, especially in light of Commerce Secretary Carlos Guitierrez' message to all employees in his department urging them to participate. The Washington Post pulled out as a Freedom Walk sponsor, after criticism from both inside and outside the paper noted participation violated its own guidelines for employee political activity.
At a higher level, the 9/11 Freedom Walk raises other troubling issues. In essence, high-profile, media focused 9/11 festivities like the Freedom Walk inappropriately commemorate American defeat. They build the growing - and disturbing - societal trend toward mass grief and participatory mourning. Pearl Harbor is remembered with somber, solemn ceremonies and moments of reflection; September 11 should be as well. The United States may yet suffer attacks even more devastating than 9/11; in their wake, institutionalizing pep rallies like the Freedom Walk may come to be source of shame and self-indulgence.
In any event, with hurricane Katrina, the United States has just experienced death and destruction on a scale that grealy exceeds 9/11. The Freedom Walk, whether you view it as sincere or cynical, now seems inappropriate, to say the least.
If anything, let's use September 11, 2005 as a kick-off to raise the resources for and awareness of the rebuilding that President Bush says is needed for the Gulf Coast. At Perrspectives, we support the troops and their families everyday, and see Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans' Day as occasion to honor their sacrifices for our freedom.
Next Sunday's Freedom Walk should be cancelled or at least postponed until Veteran's Day in November. Now is not the time for purely symbolic acts, especially not cynical ones.
As Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu put it Sunday morning, "Our infrastructure is devastated, lives have been shattered. Would the president please stop taking photo-ops?"