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“When the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001, a kind of American innocence, a widespread belief in American impunity, fell with it. This belief was itself shocking, premised as it was on the notion that we were somehow beyond the reach of forces, natural and political, that devastate other countries, situated in an ignorance or inability to identify with the victims of death squads, genocides, wars, industrial disasters; with the inhabitants of Bhopal, Chernobyl, Guatemala, Rwanda, Iraq. This belief was rooted not only in American exceptionalism but in amnesia – about the swath of devastation Sherman left across the Civil War South; about the devastation of Galveston, Charleston, Chicago, and other major cities by natural forces; about the essential vulnerability of individuals and communities; about mortality itself; and perhaps about the devastation the United States has wrought elsewhere (and for that September attack, Kabul and Baghdad were ravaged on a far grander scale with far more deaths, many eyes for an eye, in devastations that again seemed unfelt and unimagined for many in whose name they were carried out).

There is always an implication in American discourses on death and illness that they are optional, that the cure for cancer or heart disease is in some way a cure for death. As a hospice worker once told me, in this country we regard death as failure. Of course, some Americans remember lynchings and massacres, but they are not the mainstream or the ‘us’ to whom the media speak.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Ruins of Memory”


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