The general consensus when it comes to tragic events is that they must be memorialized by the public not only immediately after they occur, but for a long time afterward. To most, it doesn’t seem to be a complete tribute if the events aren’t revisited each year for another discussion on how tragic it was (case in point: 9/11). This was why, when the University of Texas, Austin campus suffered from a sniper attack in 1966 and administrators barely said a word about it, the public seemed to be lost. Rosa Eberly, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, decided to examine this reaction to the shooting in comparison to the reaction of the general public, specifically within Austin. Eberly composed an article, “Everywhere You Go, It’s There,” within which she explores how memory is created and perpetuated both privately and publicly through extensive analysis of of different media responses surrounding the shooting, as well as her own class dedicated to discussing the event. Her conclusions also connect to 9/11 when examining how this event is memorialized within the United States.
Eberly’s investigation of the shooting, as well as her class discussions on the shooting, soon became a discussion on how memory is created and perpetuated on a public and private sphere. She examines the rhetorical memory strategies the university itself had employed as a reaction to the shooting: the University would not allow anyone to climb the Tower, where the shooting had occurred, and its official website only offered two to three paragraphs on the event itself. She explains, “it was the students, in fact, who first articulated and persuaded me that the university’s strategy, intentional or structural, to repress the memories of the Tower shootings had been extremely successful: fewer and fewer students know about the shootings every year and within two or three decades few people will be alive with individual memories of the event” (77). The University of Texas had completely erased the shootings from its history in an effort to suppress the public’s memory of the event. Eberly also turns to the media to examine how this compared to the public’s tendency to revisit the event every year. She examines many public radio interviews where witnesses of the shootings call in to tell their stories of the event. Unfailingly, each of these callers is asked something along the lines of “does this still affect you today?” and each reacted by saying that the public rehashing of the event each year caused them to never find closure with it. In this sense, Eberly recognized that this forced public remembrance of the event could have become a destructive form of memorializing the tragedy. Within her classroom, however, the students created an environment where the shooting could be openly discussed and analyzed. The classroom subsequently became what Eberly refers to as a “protopublic sphere,” a place where the 1966 events could be discussed on a personal, public, and institutional level. These discussions, and the positive reactions they fostered within the students, led Eberly to the conclusion that the public needs nothing more than different topoi, or different ways, for this event to be memorialized in a more productive manner in order to reach closure with it.
Eberly’s research into public memory surrounding wide-scale tragedy echoes the media response that is still extremely active each year on September 11. Though the tragedy that felled the World Trade Center in New York City and carved open the Pentagon in Washington, DC happened over twelve years ago, September 11 is still a large day of remembrance each year. The day is marked by numerous media coverage from the event itself, as well as personal accounts of victims and witnesses made on public media forums. Some schools are still required to have a minute of silence in remembrance, and many continue to hold seminars and gatherings dedicated to remembering the event. In this way, the annual response to September 11 is parallel to Eberly’s notion of forced public remembrance of a tragic event. It comes into question whether this constant revisiting of the September 11 tragedy is constructive in helping the public move on, or if it’s instead a way for the media to uphold the public’s support of the war against terror by affirming that the tragedy is continually on the forefront of the public’s mind.
The majority of the media outlets continually refer to the tragedy as “the 9/11 attacks” or the “deadly al Qaeda terror attack”, with multiple references not only to the victims of the tragedy but to the “attackers” themselves (New York Post). Even twelve years after the event, the Huffington Post included reference to the “nineteen hijackers…later claimed by bin Laden and al Qaeda” in the middle of their article describing the memorial events that were to be held across the country (Huffington Post). Within the sadness of remembering those lost, there is always the added “and” of supporting the country’s efforts to revenge itself through the war on terror. Because of this constant link between honoring the dead and rallying against the terrorists that killed them, there is no other way for the public to memorialize this tragedy. In this sense, the United States is desperately looking for a discussion of tragedy remembrance in the vein of Eberly’s. Angry, resentful mourning is not healthy mourning. It’s mourning for the sake of getting something out of the masses instead of mourning for the sake of reaching a point of closure with the events. Instead, the United States’ public should be afforded different media topoi to give the victims of this event the respect they deserve in our memories, without the added “and” of war support.