Making a date
There's one way to take 11 September away from terrorists and politicians: remove it from the calendar.
One-year anniversaries are always the most heart-wrenching ones.
The event itself is still fresh in the memory, and people are drawn to uncomplicated, emotionally charged sentences that begin ‘A year to the day…’.
This 11 September will be no different. New York is planning a parade and a programme of classic American oratory. Washington will hold a ceremony at the Pentagon. The anniversary of the terror attacks against the two cities will be marked across the country and around the world.
There will be similar but decreasingly grandiose ceremonies on every successive 11 September – with minor blips at anniversary years divisible by 10 or 25.
Unless 11 September is removed from the calendar altogether.
Preposterous, you say. But ditching 11 September would make practical sense, and the idea could be implemented with the loss of only a few pre-printed 2003 date planners. Moreover, calendar-fiddling is not without historical precedent.
The immediate effect of the date-axing would be to remove the most tempting terrorist time-target ever. Terrorists pick anniversaries because dates lend their otherwise limited jihads or liberation struggles a sense of gravity and connection to history, even when neither exists.
The US government raid on a religious compound in Waco, Texas that killed 74 people sparked the Oklahoma City bombing two years later – coincidentally also the anniversary of the start of the American Revolution. The bombing of an Israeli bus by Islamic Jihad in June 2002 killed 17 people, and was timed to coincide with the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War. And a suspected al-Qaeda attack in Tunisia in April 2002 suspiciously fell on the eleventh day of the month.
For as long as it exists, 11 September will be a popular attack date for radical Islamists or those who want to pass off their own nefarious deeds as the work of radical Islamists. Get rid of it, and the world will be a safer place.
Calendar rearrangements have historical precedents. July and August didn’t exist until the Romans made them up, swiping days from February as they went along. After centuries during which the Julian calendar floated away from the solar calendar, Pope Gregory XIII decreed the necessary corrections and simply cut (albeit temporarily) 10 days out of October 1582. Sure, people were a bit upset at the time, but even non-Catholics eventually fell into line (1).
Perhaps the loudest protest against removing the date would come from victims’ families. But removing 11 September from the calendar wouldn’t, as they might argue, erase the events of that day last year from our collective memory.
On the contrary, an abrupt jump from 10 September to 12 September would solidify the significance of the missing number in everyone’s mind. Questions about the anomaly posed by inquisitive children would give parents an opening to explain how a really bad thing once happened, and how we can work together to stop any such bad thing from ever happening again.
Commemorative events could be held on either 10 or 12 September. Yes, this would fragment ceremonies, but large-scale disasters always tend to split people apart after the initial show of solidarity. 11 September is no exception – witness the furore over the future plans for the World Trade Center site, or the financial tussles between firefighters and policemen, emergency workers and ‘civilians’. Mourners could choose their day of remembrance, and gather with like-minded people, be they cops or airline staff or defence workers.
There is also the ancient issue of aligning the man-made year with the solar year, but that’s relatively easy to deal with by creating 31 September – or bequeathing another day to much-maligned February.
It could be argued that cutting a day out of the calendar would cost a fortune in computer reprogramming fees and other expenses. But the Y2K bug (remember that one?) didn’t sink the economy, and neither did the closure of the world’s largest stock exchange for six days after a horrendous nearby terrorist attack (which was broadcast live on TV and sparked numerous comparisons to Armageddon).
So a snip out of September probably won’t make much of a difference, especially after factoring in the pocket-loosening relief of companies nervous about hawking their goods on what has become the most infamous date on the calendar.
Abolishing 11 September would have another benefit that shouldn’t be underestimated.
It would limit the opportunities for self-aggrandising politicians to muscle in on religious ceremonies, commemorative parades or local flag-waving events. With US election day less than two months after anniversary of the attacks, that alone is reason enough to rethink the calendar.
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