Those of us who were present in NYC during the attacks in 2001 have memories that we will never shake. First responders went to funerals for a year. Losing nearly three thousand lives meant that, even in a city of 8 million people, almost everyone knew someone who passed away. I personally couldn’t take the subway for months for fear of additional attacks. And one of the comforting sounds from my childhood, that of planes passing overhead, became a source of anxiety for years (and I lived 5 miles from an airport). Yes, I was one of the lucky ones I watched the smoking buildings from a distance. I walked home from lower Manhattan to Queens that day, but I got to walk home. My heart goes out to the victims and all of their loved ones, and I know that no amount of commemoration will make them whole.
I appreciate the sentiments expressed at this time of year. The solidarity, the outrage at injustice, extremism, and terrorism. But I still wait to see if we’ve learned anything, anything from this experience. September 11, has now become the day I reflect on some hard truths:
* According to a Brown University study (Costs of War), the conflict in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of nearly 150 THOUSAND people as of 2014 (including lives lost in Pakistan). Note that over 2,300 US soldiers were killed and over TWENTY THOUSAND were wounded.
* Nearly 5,000 US service members were killed in Iraq. This pales in comparison to the estimated _500,000 to 1 million_ Iraqi deaths. The conflict was instigated based on the ‘clear and present’ threat of weapons of mass destruction. To date, no evidence of those weapons, or significant weapons programs, was ever found.
* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2001 to 2014, over FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND people died in the US from gun related accidents, homicides and suicides. Embedded within that number is a significant rise in the rate and lethality of mass shootings in schools and other public spaces.
* As of last July, nearly NINE THOUSAND civilians had been killed by police since 2001. This number was based on police self-reporting, so some estimates are higher. In the first six months of this year, police shot and killed nearly 500. Note that Black males represent roughly 6% of the population but nearly one quarter of these killings, and 26% of the killings of unarmed civilians.
* Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. We mourned the loss of over 1,000 people, and a combination of poverty and infrastructure collapse prevented us from getting an accurate count of the lives lost. An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006. The film warned that unabated use of fossil fuels would lead to more devastating super storms in the foreseeable future. Today, people commemorating 9/11 are also hearing and reading about the devastation of back-to-back superstorms.
This is not simply a crisis of leadership. In this nation, we have an addiction to falsehoods that are killing us. Myths about the Civil War and denial of the role genocide, slavery, and a racial caste system have played in building this country for some at the expense of others. The ongoing doublespeak with respect to women, their abilities and their autonomy – denying access to basic health and reproductive care while excusing women’s lack of representation in boardrooms, elected offices, and pulpits. And excusing the violence done to them daily, even when accounts of assault are recorded by the offender on audio tape. Misinformation about taxation and the value of government programs. Outright lies about the role of the Commons – investments in public schools and libraries, mutual support for the health and wellbeing of all members of the community, preservation of natural resources and public spaces, maintenance and improvement of infrastructure for transportation and public safety.
We have allowed this mythology to cripple our government, incapacitate our nation’s ability to act, and poison our ability to empathize with our fellow citizens. We have made rationalizations and justifications for terrorists and Nazis who walk our streets. We have hollowed out our diplomatic core – which will cripple us as international crises arise (see: North Korea).
Every generation before ours used tragedy as a catalyst to make America, and the world, better. Through misinformation, despotism, and scapegoating, we have used September 11 as an evergreen excuse for denying people’s basic rights to live and live freely. We hearken to the attacks as a way to promote a patriotism that demands overt shows of love for a piece of cloth but none for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people who live within our borders. We mourn the loss of these lives – these innocent victims. And then we refuse to lift a finger to prevent the loss of countless other lives to international conflict, domestic terrorism, police violence, and natural disasters – not to mention lack of access to adequate healthcare services.
We, the survivors, have an obligation to live fruitfully. Simply commemorating a tragedy is not enough. We must finally say no to willful ignorance and embrace science and history. We must finally show compassion for all Americans while refusing to tolerate those who would try to revive the specter of ignorance, nationalism and White Supremacy. We must rebuild AMERICA, not simply the towers we lost. That means New Orleans and Houston, and it means Detroit and Flint. It means bringing jobs back to West Virginia and Kentucky, and it means making communities safer in Washington DC, Chicago, and Baltimore. That is how we honor our dead: American men and women, together, making this a country worthy of the pride of its citizens and the respect of its neighbors. #RaiseAGlassToFreedom
By Jay Tucker