A Requiem for the Falling Men

A Requiem for the Falling Men August 16, 2021

Twenty years ago, when I was a teenager, I watched the 9/11 terrorist attacks on television.

I turned on the TV in time to see the last tower still standing for a few minutes.

I saw desperate people leaning out the windows, ninety-four stories in the air, waving for help as if anyone could possibly save them.

I saw little dots falling off the towers, glinting in the bright morning sun, and at first I didn’t know what they were. I thought that perhaps they were pieces of the building, but it turned out they were people.  Some of these people were clinging to curtains and drapes, trying to slow their fall in one last desperate attempt to escape the inferno. They plummeted to the ground in a free fall that took several seconds, and there they exploded like ripe fruit. In some of the news coverage you could hear the bodies hitting the pavement.

They sounded like gunshots.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may they rest in peace. 

And then the whole tower gave way, and New York was enveloped in a cloud of ash.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

Later that day, we were told that terrorists from the Middle East had committed this crime.

Why did they do it?

I couldn’t imagine. It was senseless.

They must hate our freedom.

Next thing I knew, we were invading the Middle East.

We are always invading the Middle East.

I remembered that we’d invaded the Middle East when I was in Kindergarten. Sister Mary Thomasina led us in prayer every day, after play time and before our lessons began, and she always prayed for “the boys fighting in the war.” She told us to call them “boys” and not “men” because they were so very young, but they didn’t seem young to me. And then that war was over, somehow, though it didn’t seem to have been won, sometime when I was in the first grade. After that there was another president, who was involved in a scandal, and he tried to draw attention away from himself by invading the Middle East when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I remember his secretary of state flying right here  to Ohio to lead a “town meeting” on the proposed violence, and being shouted down by local anti-war protesters. And then I was in high school and we had another president, under whose watch terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, and we invaded the Middle East again.

This, I was told, was not only to keep us safe. This was just and heroic of us, because in the Middle East, Christians were persecuted and women had no rights.

This, I was told, was not an invasion, but “liberating.”

Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, a country in the Middle East where Christians are persecuted and women have no rights. But we did not “liberate” Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia is our ally. We liberated Iraq and Afghanistan.

The people there did not seem to want to be liberated.

They did not seem to appreciate it when we drove our tanks into their cities and bombed them from above. They fought back, so we fought harder.

As I went to community college and then to a four-year college, I saw more and more people my age striding around campus in military uniform. I walked past recruitment posts on the way to school. Going to war was a good way to get your student debt forgiven and get a good job, once you were home again.

I had lunch in the cafeteria with one friend who was in the military. I asked if she was afraid of being sent to the Middle East.

“I won’t be after the election,” she said. “I just want a damn democrat in office. That’s all I want. Just get a damn democrat in office so I don’t get sent to war.”

As I finished college and went to graduate school, I met and heard of people my age coming home from having served in the war to liberate the Middle East. They complained of hearing damage and of shrapnel in their bodies. They had PTSD and could not sleep without medication. They settled down to civilian life and started families, though it didn’t always go well. And the Middle East was not liberated, and we were no safer.

When I was in my twenties, we got a damn democrat in office. But the war did not stop. We sent drones to continue our liberating work. The drones reduced combatants from moving objects to a smear on a computer screen without any Americans being put in danger. The people who sent the drones defined “combatants” as “anybody who happens to be in the area we’re bombing.” We bombed schools and weddings, grandmothers and grandchildren, and we didn’t understand why this wasn’t liberating anybody in the Middle East or making the United States safer.

And then we had another president, a Republican, and the war did not stop. He dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, called the MOAB, the “mother of all bombs,” on a mountain in Afghanistan to keep us safe. The MOAB doesn’t turn individual moving objects into smears. The MOAB murders every single moving object in a one-mile radius, with a shockwave comparable to a nuke but without the messy fallout.

And the Middle East was not liberated.

And the United States was no safer.

And then we had another president.

This one pulled all the troops out of Afghanistan. I imagine we’ll be back before long, because it’s the only thing America knows how to do. For all I know we’ll be back before you read this. But wherever else we go, we’re not in Afghanistan just now.

The terrorists who persecuted Christians and denied women rights surged right back in to take over the country the moment we were gone, as everyone knew they would.

Refugees flooded to the airports, trying to get away from the terrorists, but I don’t think they will.

This morning I saw a news video of even more human beings, running after a United States air force plane taxiing down a runway– as if the plane would stop, and open its doors, and take them to safety. But of course, it didn’t.

I saw video footage of the planes taking off, with the crowds pointing and shouting in terror. And then little dots, so small that at first you couldn’t tell what they were, fell off the bottom of the plane. They plummeted to the ground in a free fall that took several seconds, before they exploded in the dust cloud on the ground.

These were people, clinging to the plane’s wheels, in one last desperate attempt to escape the inferno of a destroyed country.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may they rest in peace. 

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.




Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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