The reason I am connecting the CSI series and the 9/11 attacks hangs on a single fact: in the 9/11 attacks more than 1,150 of the victims utterly disappeared, and this disappearance created a psychic wound in the political culture that nothing has been able to heal, but which we have only been able to acknowledge. I understand that recent grief theory has contested Freud’s famous distinction between mourning and melancholia, especially his contention, in at least some of his writings, that the purpose of mourning is to essentially get over the lost beloved and replace him or her with someone new. 

As questionable as this understanding of mourning might be, I do think that his warning against allowing mourning to slide into unhealthy melancholia is well taken, especially under my description of political mourning. If we as citizens have lost significant numbers of our dead fellows, and they cannot be recovered, this might well lead to a psychically, and then politically, dangerous anxiety that could lead to unhealthy preoccupation with the lost dead or to a form of despair when we realize that those who are lost can never be found.

I make this large claim in the context of a careful study of the aftereffects of the 9/11 attacks. I want to cite three aspects of those aftereffects, - the excavation of the site between September 12, 2001 and July 30, 2002, which is brilliantly recounted in Langwiesche’s American Ground; the initiation of pre-emptive war in Iraq and Afghanistan; the opening of the official 9/11 Memorial Reflections of Absence,  at Ground Zero on September 11, 2011. We could analyse many more attempts to deal with the loss of the dead but these are striking and central and can at least be mentioned given the time constraints.


1. Clearing the Site

People were beginning the work of recovery at the World Trade Center late on September 11th, and recovery and clearing work went on without a break until the middle of the next summer, when the final bargesful of debris were sent to the Fish Kill landfill on Staten Island and sifted, as had been all previous debris deliveries, by a large team of Hazmat-suited FEMA officials, who recovered body parts as small as a fingernail. On the site itself, a tense truce had been worked out between the construction workers whose dual charge was recovery of remains and clearing the site and the city firemen who had large numbers of their members stationed in each quadrant of the site to halt clearing operations and dig with their hands whenever a first responder’s remains were unearthed. 

There was, then, no effort spared to recover every possible human fragment from what soon became known as Ground Zero, and whatever fragments remained on the site were so mingled with the remaining soil that further recovery was impossible. But this impossibility did not stop the widows of the firemen from demanding that more recovery efforts be made, and from organizing to protest what they perceived as a heartless commercially-driven push by the four construction companies on the site to clear the site no matter how many remains were thereby lost or buried. 

That the evidence does not support this charge is irrelevant to my case. The point is that profound anxiety about the loss of bodies persisted and led to accusations and angry protests even in the face of meticulous efforts to honor the dead during the excavation process. 

And fragments continued to be discovered, first when demolition teams were preparing World Trade Center # x, the Deutschbank building, and then when the road used during the excavation was broken up to build the memorial. The 9/11 dead seem to have disappeared but  disturbingly, they keep reappearing.

Further, as mentioned earlier, the excavation process uncovered nearly 20,000 small human fragments, of which almost 5,000 were eventually connected to victims. But the remaining fragments, now about 9,900, remain refrigerated in the yet to be opened 9/11 museum. These unidentified, perhaps unidentifiable human parts remain as a mute reminder of an unresolved because unnamed loss. As Bill Hoy notes in his recent work on good funerals, one of his five ‘anchors’ is that the corpse be shown respect in its transition, something impossible do with disappeared corpses and unidentifiable and as yet unburied remains.

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