For the first time, elected officials won't speak at the ceremony commemorating the September 11 attacks - an occasion that has allowed them a solemn turn in the spotlight.The change was made in the name of sidelining politics, but some have rapped it as a political move in itself.
It's a sign of the entrenched sensitivity of the politics of September 11, even after a decade of commemorating the attacks that killed nearly 3000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. From the first anniversary in 2002, the date has been filled with questions about how - or even whether - to try to separate the September 11 that is about personal loss from the 9/11 that reverberates through public life.
The answers are complicated for Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She feels politicians' involvement can lend gravity to the remembrances, but she empathises with the reasons for silencing officeholders at the New York ceremony this year.
"It is the one day, out of 365 days a year, where, when we invoke the term '9/11', we mean the people who died and the events that happened," rather than the political and cultural layers the phrase has accumulated, said Burlingame, who's on the board of the organisation that announced the change in plans this year.
"So I think the idea that it's even controversial that politicians wouldn't be speaking is really rather remarkable."
In July, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum - led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as its board chairman - announced that this year's version would include only relatives reading victims' names. Politicians still may attend.
The point, memorial President Joe Daniels said, was "honouring the victims and their families in a way free of politics" in an election year.
"You always want to change," Bloomberg said in a radio interview in July, "... and I think it'll be very moving".
Some victims' relatives and commentators praised the decision. "It is time" to extricate September 11 from politics, the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial.
But others said keeping politicians off the rostrum smacked of ... politics.
Of course, it's difficult to remember 9/11 without remembering its impact on the nation's political narrative. As both an event and a symbol, it's "seared into the American social and political psyche, with profound consequences", Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio said.
And from the start, the anniversary has been a flashpoint for accusations of playing politics with September 11.
Charles G. Wolf feels it's time to take political voices out of the anniversary this year. He thinks that the public's connection to September 11 has changed, and that the ceremony should, too.
"We've gone past that deep, collective public grief," says Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade centre. "And the fact that the politicians will not be involved, to me, makes it more intimate, for the families.
"I think that the politicians don't need to be there, personally. ... It can be just us. That's the way that it can be now."
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