The fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11 will soon be upon us. There will be no one whose memory of that terrible blue-sky morning will rest.

Some will grieve for their personal loss, on that day or in the wars that followed. This is their day, these mourners, more so than it is ours. Someone they loved was robbed of life, far sooner than imagined possible.

The rest of us will, in our own way and time, reflect on the events of that day, and on what seems a lifetime of events since. Many will anger at how their grief was misled to war. Many others will swell with pride, for our troops, and for our president.

And in Washington D.C., our Defense Department will hold an “America Supports You Freedom Walk”, billed as “a tribute to the victims of September 11 and to the past and present military members who have defended freedom.” In “remembrance and support”, marchers will walk from the Pentagon to the National Mall, where, immediately following, country singer and songwriter Clint Black will hold a free concert, presumably performing his song “I Raq and Roll”.

At first glance, this event seems harmless, little more than a commemorative event. Most participants will have only the best of motives in marching. But there are a number of reasons to find this event disconcerting.

The Pentagon hopes to make this an annual event, to be held each anniversary of September 11. If that were all, if the goal was simply to honor its victims of September 11, then it would be right and fitting for the Pentagon to annually honor those that died there.

But that is not all. By announcing that it hopes a successful “Freedom Walk” will encourage every state to hold its own “Freedom Walk” on next year’s anniversary, the Pentagon clearly designs to create an annual occasion to whip up anew patriotic support for its policy of an endless “war on terror”. Don’t want to march, you say? Then expect to be labeled unpatriotic, and unsupportive of our troops.

By expanding the commemoration to honor “past and present military members”, when national holidays already exist that do just that, the Pentagon clearly hopes to create another feel-good nevertheless empty gesture by which, like the magnetic yellow ribbons, Americans can “support the troops” without actually sacrificing anything to support them.

But here’s one of the most disturbing things about the “Freedom Walk”: to participate, marchers first must register with the Department of Defense. That’s right. The Defense Department has set up an online registration form that explains, “The Freedom Walk is free and open to anyone who registers…You MUST have your registration number to check-in!”

To reiterate: In order to participate in a government-sponsored “Freedom Walk” on public streets past public monuments ending on the National Mall, and show support for our troops and for the victims of September 11, you must first pre-register, and give your name, address, phone number, and email address to the Pentagon. No event day registrations will be permitted.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, the Pentagon is concerned about security. Yes, perhaps that’s part of it. But Washington hosts all manners of celebrations and commemorations throughout the year – why does this one require pre-screening?

I suspect that the reason is because the Pentagon wants to be sure that no anti-war protestors participate. Marchers are being told to arrive at the Pentagon several hours before “for screening to avoid long lines. The first 1000 to arrive for screening…will receive the official America Supports You lapel pin.” I suspect that the first 1000 to arrive wearing a “No Blood For Oil” t-shirt will receive official escorts off the grounds of the Pentagon. Undoubtedly, our national “Freedom Walk” will not be very “free”.

In future years, September 11 must be left to its victims’ loved ones, who suffer enough without having to share their loss so publicly on each anniversary.  For the rest of us, it must be a day of somber remembrance and reflection, used neither for partisan gain nor patriotic grandstanding. And it especially must not be used to hold events that serve as covers to justify wars of choice.

Todd Huffman, M.D.
Eugene, Oregon