I first hated September 11th on September 11th, 2002. As the first anniversary of 9-11 neared I grew irritable, reclusive, and hopeless. In the years since, those feelings have intensified.
When I was 11, thanks to the mini-series “War and Remembrance,” I devoured any and all material I could find on World War II. I took out every book on the war in my school library, then every book from the public library. I read Herman Wouk’s novel, on which the mini-series is based, which was and probably still is the longest book I’ve ever read. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I ordered William Greider’s “History of the Third Reich” and the Time-Life video series “The Nazis: A Warning From History”; when company came I had to hide these items, lest anyone be led to think I was a burgeoning neo-Nazi. I read the Holocaust survivor stories “Escape from Sobibor” and “Fragments of Isabella.”
Of all the horrors from the war, one that always stuck with me as particularly nightmarish was the scale of relativity the Nazis used when dealing with European resistance fighters. In any country where a local killed a Nazi, there was a prescribed system for determining how many lives were equivalent to one German. If a Nazi was killed in Warsaw, maybe 50 Poles would be slaughtered; if a Nazi was killed in Denmark, maybe 20 Danes might die; if the French resistance killed a Nazi, perhaps 10 Frenchmen would be butchered.
As the years went on, I wondered why, of all the theaters of war and all the atrocities committed by each side toward the other, this scale of relativity stuck with me. Whenever September 11th rolls around, I’m reminded why it did.
After the First Gulf War ended, the U.S./U.N. imposed sanctions against the people of Iraq. One of the hardest hit groups of Iraqis was Iraqi children. In the years the sanctions were in effect, it’s been estimated that thousands of Iraqi children died from their lack of access to medical supplies.
As the Monica Lewinsky scandal crested, Bill Clinton authorized a missile launch against the Sudan. The missile launch destroyed a pharmaceutical factory. The number of Sudanese who died during the attack and as a consequence of the destruction to this medical facility has never been an issue of much concern to most Americans.
Not much more than a year after September 11th, I watched George W. Bush delivering what may have been a State of the Union address. The build-up to attacking Iraq had been snowballing for months, despite the absence of evidence, practical justification, or ethical justification for going to war. The trained seals who make up Congress, having both the power and the duty to prevent the military from being committed to unjust wars, stood and applauded hundreds of times during the speech.
Thousands of Americans died in this war. None were the clapping seals from Congress, nor any of the children of the clapping seals. Innumerably more Iraqis were murdered. None of them were responsible for the dead Americans of 9-11. The men blamed for 9-11 all died on 9-11.
A few months after 9-11, I watched two men on TV debate whether or not the U.S. government and military should go to war with Afghanistan. One of the men was adamant “we” should attack, though he was too old to enlist or be drafted himself, so really he was adamant about that someone else should, “they” should, that one group of theys should go halfway around the world and kill some other theys. The second man, a native Afghani living in the U.S., was almost in tears, claiming such an attack would be a colossal mistake, that it would bring no justice, no peace, that it would only lead the cycle of death and madness to spiral further.
Eight years later, thousands of Americans have died in Afghanistan, and continue to die. Innumerably greater numbers of Afghanis were murdered. The man credited with orchestrating 9-11 may have been killed. We’ll never know. We weren’t allowed to see his body. That would be too dangerous. Multiple wars and mammoth bloodshed and countless innocent dead and clapping seals are all somehow safer than a single corpse.
How much hatred has been created in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, since 9-11? How many fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, lovers, friends, and innocents have died? How many of the survivors now hold a place of hatred in their heart toward the U.S. that did not exist before or after 9-11? In 5, 10, 20 years, if a new generation of haters decide to further spiral the cycle of death and madness by coming to America and blowing themselves up, it is my children who will have to worry, and your children. The Bush twins and the Obama girls will have Secret Security the rest of their lives.
A week ago, an 11-month old died on Long Island. Her babysitter took a bunch of pills and passed out, falling on top of the baby. Last weekend, more than 40 people were shot in the city. Some died. I hate when September 11th comes. I hate the scope of the tragedy, and just how many people had holes torn in their hearts that day that will never heal. I hate being told that I must honor the victims. I do not feel we honor the victims. I do not know how we decide which victims in life are worth honoring and which we just forget. I do not think most of the victims would consider the scope of death performed in their wake an honor. I do not think the thousands of Iraqi children who died between the two Gulf Wars due to sanctions deserve less honor than the victims of 9-11. I do not think the catastrophically uncountable dead Iraqis and Afghanis who’ve died and continue to die after 9-11 deserve less honor than the victims of 9-11. I do not think the thousands of Americans who’ve died and continue to die in the Middle East after 9-11 deserve less honor than the victims of 9-11. I do not think dead babies or everyday people walking around the Bronx deserve less honor than the victims of 9-11.
The people who lost loved ones on 9-11 can reflect on and honor their dead in a way those of us who did not cannot. The rest of us can sympathize and empathize and extend ourselves to the best and brightest limits of our humanity. We can and should extend ourselves to those limits anyway, for all who die, anyone, anywhere, however they die.
You know what day “lives in infamy”? For God knows how long, I bet most Americans knew the answer. I bet most Americans had it hardwired into their minds, if not their hearts, and many of them never forgot. Nowadays, I bet more and more people don’t remember what day it was, or why.
I think that’s wonderful. I hope I live to see the day when 9-11 is just the day between 9-10 and 9-12.