Andy, I’ve thought a little about your question: What can we call this thing on Sunday besides an “anniversary”? I, too, balk at referring to the “tenth anniversary” of 9/11. More broadly, everything about yellow-ribbon America (to use a shorthand) nauseates me. A friend of mine condemned today what she called a “wallow-thon.”
But back to the question of “anniversary”: My only answer is that this is a neutral word — “the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.” Such an event can be good or evil. I think the reason that “anniversary” is a cozy, friendly word to us is that we associate it with our wedding days. (No snarky remarks about marriage from the peanut gallery, or anywhere else, please.)
Sorry I can’t do better. Strange, given that English is such a big, generous language, bursting with words and alternatives. One could say “observation,” “marking,” “commemoration,” and the like, but “anniversary” seems the most natural, the fittest.
P.S. “Propaganda” was a neutral term, once upon a time. Governments and organizations used it freely, to refer to that which they propagated. There was nothing sinister about it. Over time, however, the word took on a negative connotation. Funny how that happens.
P.P.S. While I’m hogging the floor, let me commend the latest column by Janet Daley, in the Daily Telegraph — a stunner. She talks about how 9/11 awakened her consciousness as an American. And she remembers the torrent of anti-Americanism that followed the attacks — in Britain, one of the America-friendliest of countries.
P.P.P.S. My own thoughts about 9/11 were encapsulated in a speech I gave on September 11, 2002, at a conference in Salonika, Greece. Go here.