September 13, 2006

9/11 Imagined

Unsurprisingly, the anniversary just passed has prompted widespread historical reflection among the popular media. More surprising is the fact that much of this thinking has taken the form of virtual, or alternative, or speculative history: musings about what might have happened had 9/11 never occurred or what might still happen as the aftermath of that great event continues to unfold. For example, the cover of last week’s Time magazine featured an extended history of the future by Naill Ferguson. Likewise this week’s Newsweek features a piece by Jonathan Alter entitled “An Alternative 9/11 History.” Finally, New York Magazine devoted an entire issue last month to the question “What if 9/11 Never Happened?”, featuring “could-have-beens” from the likes of Tom Friedman, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Frank Rich, Tom Wolfe, and Andrew Sullivan. I take it as a measure of how hard things have gotten in the past five years that the anniversary of September 11 has prompted not only heartfelt remembrance, but also such carefully historicized expressions of regret.

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