Oh, it's not original. It's been around for a while, but this year it seemed more pungent somehow, more odious, outrageous, disrespectful, and horribly true.
"Your 9/11 is our 24/7" Facebook saw it posted over and over; multiple "Letters to the Editor" columns, and innumerable blogs (including this one) carried the bleak comparison. Google carried 79,400,000 hits. There must be something to it. After all, it was just yesterday that a busload of familiesm headed out of Iraq to Syriam was intercepted by armed men dressed in military uniforms. All the women and children were forced off and told to march across the desert. The bus was later found a few miles down the road. All the men who remained on board were executed.
What? Sure, the body counts are inversely proportional to the asymmetry of the warfare, as are the vastly more unbalanced count of injured. Sure, also, the number of people deeply affected by long term trauma are also weighed heavily on the side of 'the enemy'; 'the other'; the 'not with us, therefore against us'...the very people we claimed to be helping.
It is ten years since the term 'ground zero' got applied to the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City, U.S.A. It's first use in print was in a 1946 New York Times article: "The intense heat of the blast started fires as far as 3,500 feet from 'ground zero' (the point on the ground directly under the bomb's explosion in the air)." It was a catchy 2001 phrase and caught on quickly as the media frenzy began to take hold. "Collateral damage" came in second, I think, as Americans began to understand the reality behind that phrase. But only a few Americans.
It was the proximity factor that did us in; prevented us from attaining the moral high ground; interfered with our grasping the simplest of truths: This was not a time for revenge, but a time to dig deep and find the peaceful paths to victory.Unfortunately, fear carried the day and made it easy for the Bushmen to manipulate public opinion.
If you lost a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance, then you knew the pain of collateral damage. If you were witness to the attack or a rescue/recovery worker, on the scene as we were, then the meaning of collateral damage was clear. It was in the air. It was in the stinking smell of death that permeated your clothes, your pillow, and stubbornly refused to leave your nostrils. It was the stench that had you double over with vomit spewing from your mouth and nose.
But if you were a TV witness, then all was probably transformed for you. That media wall protected you from a deeper, sadder understanding of the phrase. Collateral damage. Collateral damage. Many Americans were already filled with compassion, but the curtain of distance kept the majority of us from a visceral, emotional understanding of the events and their consequences. Not, however, from a stirring of our basest emotional triggers that spawned a taste for revenge.
Repeated film clips of the bodies falling (note: not referred to as people jumping to their deaths), the towers collapsing, the smoke and debris rushing toward the camera...all stirring flight/fight responses that were unanswerable from the living room. This left us with untapped energies that the administration could manipulate to its own ends.
And now, the now of 9/11, the now of Bush's decisions, we were to inflict collateral damage on Afghanistan, and then Iraq. To win the "war on terror?" I think not. To take revenge, send a message, appear strong in a modern warfare way? I think so.
And then came what no one was able to predict in scale. Many had opined that using violence would only lead to more violence. Many had stood and tried to stop the carnage they knew would only create more enemies than it killed. But few, if any, knew the extent of the horror we would unleash in Iraq.
We aren't any safer. We don't understand much more about the mind of the terrorist or how to steer young people away from paths of destruction. We haven't brought the world's nations any closer. What did we gain? A lot of money for the war-suppliers, a lot of weapons know-how, and a lot of enemies.
"Your 9/11 is our 24/7" became an ironic truth. One bumper sticker said, "Be nice to America or we'll bring Democracy to your nation." We were still able to joke about it, but to this day, and forward many generations, there are Iraqis who will be hard pressed to find the humor in the pain we unleashed upon their nation, their people, their generations of young Iraqis growing up traumatized by what surrounded them day after day for so many years.
It's never too late to learn. It's not too late to admint the errors of our foreign policies. It's not too late to teach young ones about compassion and the folly of using violence to solve problems.
"Your 9/11 is our 24/7." It's not a joke.
What if we made September the International Month of Peace Studies? What if we made the eleventh of September a day of rememberance for all those lost to political violence in all countries in all times? What if we began to steer this world toward more peaceful tomorrows?
September 13, 2001 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact