OWN VOICE. By David Marsland, El Granada.
Reflections on 9/11 and the Costs of War
The August/September 2021 issue of AARP Magazine has an incredible article called Voices of 9/11, published on the 20th anniversary of this tragic event. This story ripped my heart out and left me sobbing. Prepare to be moved to tears if you choose to read this excellent article. It’s worth it. The dead deserve to be honored and remembered.
I’ll always remember my son Joshua shouting “come upstairs Dad, a plane hit the World Trade Center”. We watched in horror as the second plane hit. We trembled and cried and tried to comfort each other at this senseless destruction and unfathomable horror unfolding before us, as thousands died and hundreds of thousands struggled to escape three thousand miles away.
Where were you on 9/11/2001? How did that make you feel? Can you remember? Will you dare to revisit those dark memories? How did 9/11 change your life?
I will forever be in awe of #FDNY and #NYPD and all the #FirstResponders who put their lives on the line that day. May those who died #RIP. Sending loving kindness to their friends and families and to all those touched by tragedy on that sad day. I am also grateful and awed by the courage of those who returned day after day in the choking clouds of toxic devastation, literally breathing the incinerated remains of the thousands who died that day.
My cousin Kathryn was one of those brave second responders, working in stifling heat and poisoned air to feed those searching the rubble, even as she mourned the loss of so many friends and co-workers. Tens of thousands of brave people struggled to find survivors and restore some semblance of order to the unimaginable wreckage. Kathryn worked tirelessly from the kitchen of their culinary school to feed these brave souls, just blocks away from the Twin Towers and miraculously saved from the firestorm.
Many of the second responders later succumbed to cancer and pulmonary disease from all the toxic dust they inhaled as they strived to help others. All too many took their own lives, unable to live with the pain of the carnage they willingly and selflessly plunged into to save others. Survivors’ guilt is very real and extremely hard for many to live with.
Why did the terrorists commit such a heinous act? We may never truly know as they died committing their sick and twisted crime against humanity. Were they driven by hatred or jealousy or religious fanaticism? They certainly chose a visible target. If their goal was to wreak havoc they clearly succeeded. If their goal was to incite hatred and warfare they succeeded all too well.
If their goal was to break our common bonds of humanity around the world they failed miserably. The entire world and came together in grief and support and condemnation of these hellish acts of terrorism. Nearly the entire world. Sadly, a few fanatics rejoice at the power of destruction unleashed on that fateful day.
All too many wanted someone to blame and to wreak vengeance upon. The ugly extremes of religious fanaticism and patriotic zealotry soon reared their ugly heads. Our precious American flag was at first flown widely and became a symbol of mourning, solidarity, and patriotism. Then our flag took on a darker meaning, giant flags flapping behind giant pickup trucks driven largely by angry young men lusting for vengeance and war against the enemy who perpetuated this evil upon our nation. Perhaps this is what the terrorists aimed for. Perhaps the true enemy is hatred and division. The drums of war were sounding. Soon hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million more people would die in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
A week after 9/11, since Susan had long ago purchased tickets, we were blessed to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the Mountain Winery. There was a strange mix of sadness, grief, patriotism, and concern about how our government and military might respond. They played “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. The lyrics chilled us:
“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
A-telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn…”
What have we learned 20 years later? Under the leadership of President Joe Biden, the United States finally withdrew our troops from Afghanistan at great cost, ending American troops’ involvement in this tragic war. The war on Afghanistan was started almost 20 years ago under President George W Bush.
This war torn country may have been the hiding place of Osama Bin Laden, presumed to be the fanatic mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but did hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans and Pakistanis deserve to die there? Most were civilians, women, men, the elderly and children. Did so many young American troops deserve to die there? Over 6,000 US military troops and contractors died in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2018. *
Sadly in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war, religious fanatics have taken over that country in the form of the Taliban. Now women’s rights, girl’s rights and religious freedom are all in peril in the ancient country of Afghanistan. Perhaps this was part of the nefarious goals of the 9/11 terrorists. But at what cost?
Similar scenes of grievous devastation unfolded in the war on Iraq in the last two decades, again incited by President G.W. Bush on the false premise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMDs, held in Iraq. These WMDs were never found in significant quantities. Mostly the war on Iraq was justified by the lust for vengeance after 9/11, despite the fact that there was no significant connection between Iraq and 9/11. Perhaps attacking Iraq was driven by America’s list for oil.
Over half a million died in Iraq, almost all civilians. Again women, men, children, and the elderly. Over 8,000 US military troops and contractors died in Iraq between 2003 and 2018. *
After the 9/11 attacks many brave and patriotic young and older men and women enlisted in the armed forces to defend our country, ready to sacrifice themselves for the America they loved. They showed great courage and honor, having no idea where they might be deployed yet knowing they were likely to be under fire soon. Some others strove to realize part of their visions of vengeance as they traded their flag flaunting pickups for military enlistments.
Most of our troops were simply young men and women who wanted to defend their country and drag themselves from poverty, lured by patriotism and slick enlistment dreams of government sponsored “free” college after service. It’s hard to go to college when you’re dead, or hurt beyond full recovery by Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In addition to the over 15,000 US military troops and contractors who died in the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars, approximately 54,000 were wounded. **
Even more tragically, over 30,000 veterans of the post-9/11 wars have taken their own lives. The horrors of war are hard to live with. **
On an even bigger scale, over 8 million people became refugees and or internally displaced people by 2017 due to the post-9/11 wars. **
Two days after 9/11 my wife Susan led an interfaith choir from many major religions, loving people from cultures around the world. In harmony they sang John Lennon’s beautiful song Imagine:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”
May we embrace our brothers and sisters of all faiths, from all countries, as fellow human beings. Sending loving kindness to all people around the world.
May peace prevail on Earth. May peace be with you. May we all have the courage to work for peace.
* “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars.” Watson Institute of Brown University, https://watson.brown.edu/
** “Costs of War.” US and Allied Killed, https://watson.brown.