To be Perfectly Frank, on Today of All Days.
You listening, NSA?
Today is the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you are like most and fit into one or both of two categories — Patriotic Americans & Americans who have eyes and ears — you don’t need to be reminded of this by me. You either already started thinking about it on your own a week or more ago or in the last few days have been unable to avoid the subject, as reminders have sprung up everywhere, for example:
- Your neighbor recently hoisted his colors. To only half-mast.
- Google is doing that weird thing again with the black ribbon at the bottom of their homepage. Wait, it didn’t even merit a graphical transformation of their logo? Pffft! Those haters.
- While surfing the cable, you can’t land on Fox News or MSNBC for more than five seconds without some vain idiot bursting a blood vessel — hold up, that’s any old time you surf the cable, so you might have to stop for more like ten seconds before someone says, “when I saw the twin towers collapse…”
- That one obnoxious friend who likes to waste your time on the phone just casually brought it up the other day. Just like he did last year. And the year before. You talked for over an hour.
- Your calendar says “September” and one of the little boxes says “11.”
Well, it just so happens that I think all of this is completely absurd. I mean, who cares?! Let me state that another way: This all happened 12 years ago, to people I don’t know, in a place that, practically speaking, is on the other side of the world and I don’t really care any more than I would about any other event that can be similarly described. And I think that were it not for generations of being spoon-fed American Exceptionalism and related propaganda, no one else in their right mind would care either, except, of course, those still dealing with their injuries or their losses.
What happened in New York City (and Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, PA) to 3000 random people more than a decade ago should have little more impact on my way of thinking or doing than what might have happened, say, in Western Siberia to 10 random people more than 3 millennia ago. The only important difference between these two events, in terms of how they relate to me, is that the former has been taken up as a cause for the erosion of my liberties and the destruction what’s left of my country. But I’m sure that if 9/11 didn’t happen there still would have been plenty of other means to that end, so like I said, the event itself is of no particular importance.
Please do not misunderstand and take any of this to mean that I don’t care and that no one else should care that innocent people were murdered on September 11th, 2001. It’s just that I realize that violent, cruel, wanton, unjustified murder is an every day occurrence and there was hardly anything special about it in this case. Besides perhaps the circumstances leading up to it (religious extremism, blowback, the incompetence of the intelligence community, strange coincidences, etc.) or the disgusting way in which the crisis was taken advantage of. Quoting Josef Stalin* never made me any friends, but here goes: “when one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it’s statistics”. It is easy to read too much into those words, especially given who allegedly said them, but there is much truth to them, I think.
Is it a given that you are or that you should be more sad when two (or 10 or 10,000) people die than you are when it is only one? And by how much, exactly? Maybe if you personally know and love those who died it makes sense to be more devastated when they die in droves, but that has more to do with the positive impact those people had on your life when they were living and the way your life is going to be without them. It has little to do with numbers. Is a serial killer with 12 victims somehow more evil than a serial killer with 11 victims? More skilled, more insane perhaps, but more evil? How much harder is it to answer such questions in the affirmative when it involves complete strangers, perhaps thousands of miles away?
It certainly makes sense for society to collectively hate greater amounts of death and destruction more than it does lesser amounts. However, this is not because greater amounts are somehow objectively more evil, but simply because society is made up of individuals who are each more likely to be harmed in these greater tragedies than they are in the lesser ones. The state and the media know this well enough and so are able to play to the fears and emotions of the people all the more easily. Throw into this volatile mix some patriotic fervor and an opportunistic president (the very last person on earth I would ever give a bullhorn to), and you can begin to understand why this awful tragedy, this mere statistic, became cause for war and the many evils that accompanied it. And continue, even to this day.
Some people maintain that we should be particularly mindful of the 9/11 attacks because they were an act of war by Islamic Terrorists against the United States. This is debatable (no, laughable), but even if it wasn’t it has no bearing on whether I should have a quarrel or an alliance with one side or the other. These two imaginary entities are mere labels for establishing collective guilt and responsibility. Everyone is expected to pick a side or have it chosen for them, even though it does not follow that an attack on “the United States” is necessarily an attack on them, or that they have some duty to aid, to sympathize or empathize with the victim (which, again, is only a figment).
If anything, 9/11 was an attack on a very specific set of targets. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Capitol Building. These may have represented “America” to the planners and perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, but none of them have anything to do with the vast majority of self-styled Americans. I’d even go so far as to say that the latter two targets had it coming. And they’re just going to keep on making the same mistakes and expect a different outcome. There went Iraq. There go Afghanistan and Libya. Here comes Syria. Next up Iran. What other hornets’ nests can we lob some rocks at and not expect to get stung? Do not those who live by the sword also tend to die by the sword?
*Likely misattributed, as are most of the good ones, it seems.