American Fragility Could Heal the World

Tribute to John Lennon in Central Park, NYC. Photo by Twenty20

Today, Americans observe the terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of 2,996 Americans on September 11, 2001. We will read news articles. Politicians will give speeches. Everyone has an opinion and a story. In a very American way of doing things, we’ve even created a marketing term for this tragedy. It’s “9/11.”

For better or worse, Americans treat the attack on our soil as though it sets us apart from the rest of the world and from our own history. It doesn’t. The attack was a tragedy in every sense of the word, but it’s important to put it in context. Here are a few facts that have not motivated much outrage or practical response from the American public or its politicians.

  • The war in Iraq caused the deaths of almost 500,000 Iraqis and almost 5,000 Americans. It has caused almost 3 million Iraqis to become homeless refugees;
  • The US government has, in my lifetime and without provocation, atttacked dozens of countries on behalf of US corporations and “American values,” among them, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Vietnam, Syria, Laos,Yemen, Cambodia, Haiti, Iran, Chile, Congo, Iraq, Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Kenya, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Uganda, and Indonesia.

When we consider the bigger picture, it doesn’t seem like our national rage is related to the loss of human life or a respect for national soverighty.

In 1989, my brother died of AIDS. He was an artist and a musician, and loved. It was the worst tragedy my family has ever experienced. But my brother left me with a gift. Because of his death, I realized, for the first time in my life, that the people I encountered every day might be suffering from loss. I felt more compassion toward people I didn’t even know or like. Although I haven’t been consistently adept at engaging those feelings of compassion, I know that when I try, I am a better and happier person.

Our country could have this gift. What if our national tragedy became a national opportunity to understand the pain and suffering of others instead of being deployed to justify rage and war? What if politicians redefined “American exceptionalism” as a commitment to peace and mutual respect instead of righteousness and pillaging? What if our “American values” included compassion?

Neither the people nor the governments of Afghanistan or Iraq flew aircraft into the Twin Towers. We don’t wage war on white men because four white men murdered dozens of school children. As a nation, we have barely acknowledged 5,000 lynchings of black men or the thousands of children who died of abuse in the care of Catholic nuns.

We should stop being defined by “9/11.” We are not victims and we have paid an unacceptably high price for foreign policy based on violence, power, and money. The United States could heal the world with the power and money we already have. If that seems like a radical idea, we might be running out of time for anything else.

My brother, RIchard, on the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris sometime before 1989


  1. That was powerful and hard hitting. I pray from you pen to Gods ears ! Lord let us to be just that, peacemakers, and love our neighbors.

  2. Your powerful essay puts 9/11 into historical perspective. We should be mourning all of the deaths the US has perpetrated in the name of American Exceptionalism. Bravo Kim, for exposing the hypocrisy.

  3. Wow…..powerful writing Kim…thank you
    ..I am so sorry to hear about your brother…..I didn’t know…..
    …..I felt this deeply……”our national rage” is also against each other……maybe the other pandemic is the divisiveness….healing this and then healing the world is a “radical” idea to those who would resist it. But radical ideas have caused major breakthroughs in positive changes for humanity. I hope this one does.

  4. Brilliant and super-powerful, Kim. Brava for your courage it telling these truths. There is an Opinion in today’s NYT (“Never Forget”) that also expresses these vitally important facts. If only people would read and heed…

  5. Kim, thank you for this powerful and honest perspective of our self-denial as a nation. The death and chaos we have wrought worldwide with our foreign policies are already widening and deepening the divisiveness among us here in the USA. I’m saddened to learn about the loss of your brother. It has also been my experience that personal loss does fill our hearts with “compassion toward people [we] didn’t even know or like.”

  6. Thanks for posting this. There is an idea in psychology that the victim of trauma will unconsciously repeat the trauma again and again. The 911 trauma was ruthlessly manipulated for financial and political gain. This trauma was used to machinate a kinder gentler police state where constant surveillance of every citizen is the norm. This trauma was like the burning of the American Reichstag in pre-Nazi Germany, and just like the Reichstag burning … it created a lot of “Good Germans” who will “never forget” this attack, and who will be ever-willing to seek out future enemies to slay.

  7. Hi Kim…I’ve lost hope that the US Government will ever change its hypocritical ‘do as we say, not as we do’ policies. Your brother Richard was certainly handsome and had a great smile. Even after so many years, I’m sorry for your loss. Take care.

  8. We live in a twisted, hypocritical political environment, thank you for putting it in perspective and I am so sorry about your beautiful brother. A simple line shined through the numbers you presented above, perhaps the most powerful and meaningful of it all: “Although I haven’t been consistently adept at engaging those feelings of compassion, I know that when I try, I am a better and happier person.” If we all did just a little bit better…

  9. Thank you Kim for the reminder to keep trying to fight the military industrial complex, and to have compassion for everyone since we have all have fragile hearts that have experienced loss.

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