Artistic Expression in Reaction to 9/11

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Gwen Outen.

And I’m Steve Ember. Saturday is the third anniversary of the September eleventh attacks on the United States. Today we explore how Americans have reacted through expressions of art, culture, political debate and memorials.

In New York City, parents and grandparents of victims will read the names of those who died at ground zero, the World Trade Center. Nearly two thousand eight hundred people were killed when hijacked planes destroyed the Twin Towers.

The names will be read at a ceremony in the morning on Saturday. Then, at sundown, the fallen buildings will be remembered with a Tribute in Light. Two huge lights will shine straight up into the sky.

Ground zero is to get a new look in the next few years. The architect Daniel Libeskind won an international competition with his design for redeveloping the land. The design calls for a collection of modern glass office buildings. The tallest will be called Freedom Tower.

On September eleventh, two thousand one, nineteen Islamic terrorists hijacked four passenger airplanes. The men flew two of the planes into the World Trade Center. A third hit the Pentagon, the military headquarters across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The crash left a huge hole in one of the five sides of the building. Workers had the wall repaired in time for the first anniversary of Nine-Eleven. A competition took place to design a memorial at the Pentagon.

Officials believe the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight ninety-three, was aimed for the Capitol building or the White House. But, after the hijacking, passengers and crew members made calls on wireless phones. They learned from family and friends that other planes had been used as missiles. They decided to lead a rebellion.

As the passengers fought back, the hijackers crashed the plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All forty passengers and crew members died on United Flight ninety-three. On Saturday, the first part of a competition will open to design a memorial to honor these men and women.

In all, three thousand people from ninety countries were killed on Nine-Eleven.

There are many kinds of memorials to the victims of Nine-Eleven. Family members and others have written poems. Musicians have written different pieces, from country songs to classical works. Painters, poster makers, authors, playwrights, photographers and filmmakers have all added their ideas.

One of these filmmakers is Michael Moore. In "Fahrenheit 9/11," he argues that President Bush used the fear created by the attacks to invade Iraq. The movie also criticizes the USA Patriot Act. Congress passed this legislation soon after the attacks. The Patriot Act expanded government powers to investigate terrorism suspects.

Michael Moore uses humor in his films to deal with serious subjects. “Fahrenheit 9/11” became one of the top films of the year. It has made more money than any other documentary in American history. The movie has been criticized. Some people say it is unfair to the president. They say it is not a documentary but propaganda.

This Saturday, many American libraries will hold discussions related to the Nine-Eleven attacks. Some of these discussions are expected to center on the Patriot Act. Some groups see this law as an invasion of privacy and say it restricts constitutional rights. But other groups plan discussions in support of efforts by the government to protect the country from more attacks.

The attacks three years ago, the worst in American history, led to a Department of Homeland Security. There is also a play called “Homeland Security.” This summer, it was performed at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The play by Stuart Flack raises a question: Does safety mean that Americans must sacrifice their freedoms and their trust?

In the play, government agents question a woman and her boyfriend as they arrive at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Susan is an American; Raj, a doctor, is an American of Indian ancestry. The situation suggests at first that the agents have targeted Raj just because they think he is Middle Eastern. But things are not as simple as that. Was Raj in fact helping terrorists, perhaps unknowingly? As in real life, people who see “Homeland Security” must decide for themselves.

A play just opened in New York City deals with the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo wrote “Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.”

Most of the men in the camp were captured in the war in Afghanistan. The United States targeted al-Qaida, the group led by Osama bin Laden that carried out Nine-Eleven. American-led forces also ousted the Taliban government allied with al-Qaida.

The new play denounces the policies used to hold suspected enemy fighters at Guantanamo.

Another play related to Nine-Eleven is called “Recent Tragic Events.” The play by Craig Wright begins on the day after the terrorist attacks. But the action takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, far from the events of Nine-Eleven.

A young woman named Waverly is worried about her sister Wendy, a student in New York. No one has heard from Wendy. Still, Waverly has decided to try to live a normal life.

As the play continues, she talks to several visitors in her apartment. The events of Nine-Eleven force them all to deal with questions that people rarely face when life is normal.

Among those killed at the World Trade Center were three hundred forty three New York City firefighters. From this tragedy came a play called "The Guys." A journalism professor, Anne Nelson, wrote the play based on her own experience. She helped a Fire Department captain as he struggled to write the words to say at memorial services for the men he lost.

"The Guys" became a Hollywood movie. Sigourney Weaver plays the writer; Anthony LaPaglia is the fire captain.

FIRE CAPTAIN: "The thing is, I don't really know what to do. The call came, and the guys went out. They haven't found them yet. Some of the families, they want to have a service now so they can move on. And, uh, I gotta’ get up and I gotta’ talk in church. I been sittin’ in front of a piece of paper all day and haven't been able to write a word, not a...not a sentence. I keep going into a clutch. I'm all right under normal circumstances. But, what am I going to tell those families?"

WRITER: "Hey, it's okay. Maybe I can help. I've never written a eulogy before, but I've written some speeches. How many did you say there were?"


WRITER: "Eight!"

FIRE CAPTAIN: "Eight men. I lost eight men."

In Washington, the Library of Congress is showing a collection of posters related to Nine-Eleven. One of these posters is formed from images of the victims. It shows the Twin Towers with a burst of yellow light between the buildings.

The poster by Alex Spektor is called “The Sun.” But the light could also represent the fires of Nine-Eleven or a spiritual effect.

Some songs about Nine-Eleven express anger. Other express pride in America. Still others describe conditions during or after the attacks.

Bruce Springsteen wrote “Empty Sky.” The name comes from the days immediately after Nine-Eleven when all but military flights were grounded.

((CUT TWO: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “EMPTY SKY” CDP 25546A, Band Six, beginning at about 0:57 to 1:58))

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra asked the composer John Adams to write a piece in memory of Nine-Eleven. Mr. Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for this work. The names of victims, and some of their final words, are heard over the music.

The piece is called “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

A recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls” by composer John Adams is being released to mark the third anniversary of Nine-Eleven.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. And our e-mail address is [email protected] I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Gwen Outen. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.