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A quiet anniversary for a day most Americans want to put behind them

Most Americans were more concerned about the non-event of Hurricane Irene in New York City than they

If 9/11 taught America any stoicism, it certainly wasn't much in evidence from the media as Hurricane Irene approached. Television stations competed for the most alarmist and stupid emergency coverage.

“Reporter caught in Irene's wind," one report was tagged. Except, of course, he wasn't caught: he was choosing to be on a beach. "It's a wild morning on the outer banks and we're not out of the woods yet," he said. Well out of the woods, funnily enough, for he was standing in the sea, quite unnecessarily, as the wind rose. "Look, he's using the wet sand and the water there almost to anchor him down," noted a presenter, catching the first time in recorded history that water has acted as an anchor.

As the threat of the storm to New York faded, the torrents of guff continued to pour: there could be tornadoes, blackouts, body bags. "It feels like pinpricks," squeaked a reporter in the rain while, back in the studio, an "expert" noted solemnly that a loss of power could set the city back 80 years. Happily, much of the public appeared to have a little more sangfroid than the media. People just sat tight and refused to panic, waiting for the storm of hyperbole to pass.

You might characterise the American response to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 similarly. Having been in the US for five weeks, I have yet to come across anyone terribly in­terested in it. Only one has said she will definitely commemorate the events at the World Trade Center in any way - by saying a prayer, it being a Sunday. It looks as if, barring surprises, the anniversary of 9/11 will pass with a whimper, not a bang.

Quiet voices

A compilation of events by the Voices of September 11th website, which provides an information, support and commemorative service for families affected by the attacks, lists not a single tenth-anniversary event in 18 states. In Iowa, Utah, Louisiana and Kansas, in Vermont and Oregon, Wyoming and Mississippi, nothing has been registered.

This doesn't mean there will not be any events on the day - many churches all over the US, which have been angered by President Obama's refusal to have any religious element to the official event at the World Trade Center site, are planning special services - but it does mean the website is aware of nothing major.

Some states and towns have been scrambling to get together a last-minute commemoration. In Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad seems to have just recently remembered the anniversary: on 23 August he announced there would be a ceremony, and is encouraging the public to attend. Other responses are notably low-key. The city of Weston, Florida, will release doves. The mayor of New Orleans has asked people to bake cookies for firefighters. In Fayette County, Ohio, at the end of August, there were plans (described as "tentative") to fly an American flag on the front of the county courthouse.

The point is not to mock the smaller efforts, but to note that grandiose commemorations are not being planned. In Kansas, the 150th anniversary of the state cattle drive will arrive at the small town of Kingman on 9 September for a three-day "150th Anniversary Blow Out". It seems odd timing.
Oh, there are features in magazines. The September issue of Runners is carrying interviews with people inspired to run by 9/11, for instance. And doubtless we shall have commemorative newspapers (in the UK as well as in the US). But all around America, come 9/11/11, people will remain calm and carry on as usual.

America is tired of 9/11, and tired of war. It is tired of an event that launched two wars that have sucked over $1.2trn out of the economy. It is tired of sending servicemen and women to fight in countries on the other side of the world where the number of US military casualties is now double the total killed on 9/11. Peace logos are the most popular design on girls' clothes in the shops this autumn. In Kewanee, Illinois, the anniversary is being marked by the "retirement" of the "Heroes" sign in Veterans Park, erected six years ago to list the names of local people serving in the "war on terror".

Home front

The US wants peace and normality. It wants jobs and a rising housing market, and a president who concentrates on the economy. The spike in his approval rating following the death of Osama Bin Laden in May has gone and Obama now has his highest-ever disapproval rating. For the first time recorded by the Pew Research Centre, the leading "fact tank", majorities in every political grouping, including conservative Republicans, said this spring that the US "should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home". The collapse of the Gaddafi regime and the death on 22 August of the al-Qaeda number two, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman - these things do not penetrate here. Only the economy, house prices and jobs. And occasionally hurricanes.

There is not even enough money from private donations to build the permanent memorial planned in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to UA Flight 93, in which passengers heroically attacked the hijackers and brought the plane down in a field. Obama will instead dedicate an uncompleted memorial there.

The president has been using the anniversary to stir a fighting spirit in Americans, linking citizens' response to the terror attacks a decade ago with their reaction to the economic challenges of today. "The outpouring of generosity and compassion reminded us that, in times of challenge, we Americans move forward together, as one people." That reminds one of the real enduring legacy of 9/11 - queues of American citizens resignedly inching forward at airports to be strip-searched electronically. Nine-11? It's not much to shout about over here.

This article first appeared in the 05 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, 9/11