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.
- Since September 11, 2001, US drones have killed as many as 48,000 innocent civilians worldwide https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/sep/07/us-airstrikes-killed-at-least-22000-civilians-since-911-analysis-finds ;
- Since September 11, 2001, more than 700,000 Americans have died from gun violence and gun-related accidents, including more than 30,000 children https://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-terrorism-gun-violence/index.html ; https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
- The war in Afghanistan caused the deaths of more than 170,000 Afghans and more than 6,000 Americans. It has caused more than 3 million Afghans to have become homeless refugees.; https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-business-afghanistan-43d8f53b35e80ec18c130cd683e1a38f
- 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;http://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/
- Since September 11, 2001, the stock market prices of weapons suppliers have increased, on average, by 1000%, almost double the average of other stocks; https://theintercept.com/2021/08/16/afghanistan-war-defense-stocks/
- 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.