September 11

Today is my birthday. I share it with a national tragedy. I like to acknowledge both. For the birthday, I share it with my friends and family. For the other, I share it here.

On the day I turned thirty-one, terrorists killed 3,000 people in the United States. It was a horrific moment of awakening for this country, a moment that those of us who had grown up overseas thought we understood. I grew up with car bombs on the news and in my city. It had only been a matter of time, I thought, before the United States would have had to face it. American headlines screamed that “The World has Changed!” and I remember thinking that was a lot of hubris.

I did not account for what the United States would do in response. This was a moment that could have touched off a world-shaking drive for peace, compassion, and a better future. Instead, we launched a world-shearing assault on “terrorists,” which has, in most reasonable estimates, been responsible for the deaths of almost 5,000 US service members in Iraq alone, and between 100,000 and 1 million Iraqis. The issue is not as stark as these numbers make it out to be, the world is a muddy mess, even at its best. But that is a lot of blood spilled in vengeance. The world did change after all. And our country was the agent of that change.

I’m not asking to compare the three thousand victims of 9/11 to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Iraq War. That is a scale that will never balance. Instead, I am asking us to put ALL the deaths on one side. What goes on the other side then?

For my birthday wish, I would like us to reflect on these scales, and do what we can to see them balance.

The Legacy of Nine Eleven?

Driving to work today, I drove by a home in our neighborhood where they had mounted a huge American flag on a flagpole attached to a tree. I thought of all the people who had their lives taken from them on 9/11/2001, and all the people who had someone ripped from their hearts on that day.

I have visceral memories of watching the towers go down. I was stupefied, horrified, and angered. But above all, I was sad. I felt hollow to my core.

I also gave thought, this morning, to all the people who have died in the aftermath of the events of that day. I am a Liberal, and so I am predisposed to dislike war, but I think everyone can find room in their hearts to decry the end results of the second war on Iraq, entered into on the pretext of security/revenge for 9/11, but against a country that was ultimately determined to have had nothing to do with those attacks.

Let me repeat that.

The People of these United States went to war with Iraq because we were told Iraq was responsible for 9/11, except that it turns out they were not. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator, yes, killing with abandon and with no fear of retribution. But Syria’s Assad is the same, and our country has no will to fight that fight. We were told we went to war with Iraq to avenge, and prevent, any further 9/11s.

This is part of the legacy of 9/11:

  • Victims killed on 9/11 itself: 2,977 (source)
  • US Military killed in the Iraq War since 2003: 4,409 (source)
  • Iraqi citizens killed in the Iraq War since 2003: over 100,000 (source)
    (These numbers are from various Wikipedia articles, fwiw, and that last number is the lowest of estimates)

Here’s what I take away from this.

Terrorists attacked our country, killing innocent people in numbers staggering to behold. Almost three-thousand people died on that single day. In reaction, and for no good reason, we sacrificed almost four-thousand five-hundred of our bravest men and women, and had a hand in killing or provoking the deaths of over one-hundred-thousand people, most of them as innocent as the original 3,000 who died eleven years ago.

I think today is a day to hang our heads in shame, and in anger. That we were attacked. That innocents have died. That we reacted so childishly, so violently, with such patriotic fear. We did the work of Evil for them. We killed thousands of our own, and a hundred thousand innocents died because of us.

I am sorry.

And I still find myself, on this day eleven years later, ineffably sad.