Today, I want everyone to do something for me.
We just recently had the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so this should be easy. I want you to try to remember what you felt like on 9/11. Remember the fear, the panic, the betrayal. Remember how perfectly commonplace landmarks that had always been there became images of horror. Or if you can’t remember because you were too young, try to imagine how it would feel. I talked a little about how it felt last week.
If you need help imagining, I am not embedding these videos in the blog post because I know how traumatic they are, but you can click on the links to watch them on YouTube if you like. Here’s a video of the crowds running for shelter from the dust crowd that engulfed Manhattan, sprinting around in their work clothes, ducking into buildings and trying to stuff their shirts in the cracks in the doors. Watch the day turn to night as the cloud covers everything.
Here’s audio and video of first responders and air traffic control communicating with victims.
Here are the final moments inside the first tower and its collapse.
You can see some of the people who fell or jumped to their deaths here. Remember that we’ve been told they didn’t fall fast enough to black out. They were conscious when they hit the ground. Remember how you could hear the impact on the news, when professional cameraman were trying not to show anybody’s death on television. Remember how we kept seeing pictures of random objects like abandoned shoes at Ground Zero, shoes that had been blown off their feet by the force of the impact. That was what they showed us instead of bodies, for obvious reasons.
Now that you’ve refreshed your memory, let me explain something.
If we happen to go to war with Iran, or with another Middle Eastern country, or if we continue to engage in the good old American tradition of lobbing bombs at people in the Middle East and not calling it going to war but “peacekeeping efforts” or “counter-terrorism”– if we do any of that, other people will feel just that way.
Other people, people who don’t personally want to hurt us and only want to live their day-to-day lives, will feel that shock and sick sense of injustice.
Other people will experience trauma as they watch the landmarks that were always in the background of their day-to-day lives crumble to ash.
Other people will sprint down a street, or a country road or a gravel path, in their everyday work clothes, sobbing in fear, trying to outrun something that can’t be outrun. They will try to force their way into storefronts and hide behind shelves for shelter, or they will hide in a cave or behind a car or plaster themselves to a wall. They will watch as night engulfs the world in the mid-morning; if they are indoors, they will stuff their shirts in the cracks of doors, to keep the toxic ash out, but it won’t work.
If we go to war, or if we launch a military campaign akin to war without calling it that, other people will be trapped in buildings. They’ll run to the elevators and realize the elevators won’t work. They’ll pull their shirts up over their faces to mitigate the smoke inhalation and run down the emergency staircase, or up the staircase to the roof. They will find that this doesn’t work. They will lean out of windows so high in the air they’d never think of doing such a thing at any other time, and they’ll wave vainly for rescuers that aren’t coming. They will find themselves trapped in the windows as the smoke gets worse and worse. And eventually, they’ll fall or they’ll jump. They will fall through the air at an agonizing speed but not quite fast enough to make them black out before impact. While they are still conscious, their bodies will hit the pavement and explode. Their shoes will fly off their feet with the momentum of hitting the ground, and someone will find them later and wonder how they got there.
Or else they won’t jump, and they’ll burn to death, or suffocate, or be buried under the rubble. Some of those people buried under the rubble won’t die instantly but over the course of several hours, or longer.
Some of those people will be people politically opposed to the behaviors we object to in their governments; they’ll be people who would have been our allies if we’d gone about this a different way. But they will die cursing us.
Some of those people will be children who will cry for their mothers to comfort them, but they will die alone.
That is what happens when you go to war.
You see, the difference between war and terrorism isn’t really apparent when you’re the one running from the dust cloud or jumping out of a building. In practice, for the helpless victim, they are the same. And I think the helpless victim’s viewpoint is the correct one.
9/11 is what happens to somebody else, every time the United States shoots a missile at somewhere else, to try to please our allies or to try to scare our enemies or to try to feel powerful when we are afraid. That exact same terror happens to someone who is no less valuable in the eyes of God than you, to families no less valuable than your family, to people who are as beloved as your loved ones are to you, whenever we try to solve our problems by blowing foreign people up.
It happened to people under the elder Bush, under Clinton, under the younger Bush, under Obama, and it’s happening now. It will happen to still more people if we go to war or lob a few bombs at Iran.
Causing 9/11 to happen to other people has been our national pastime for as long as most of us have been alive. Causing 9/11 to happen to other people is the American politician’s favorite way of distracting people from problems at home. It’s America’s way of pointing and saying “Hey, look over there!”
And if we say “Hey, look over there!” at Iran right now, it will happen to still more people.
And American warmongers who are already rich will make more money.
And foreign people will hate us even more than they already do, and we will say it’s because of our freedom.
And we will imagine ourselves free, in that naive American way.
Do you want other people to feel like that?
Is that really what you want?
(image via Pixabay)