On September 11th, 2001 most, if not all of us here in America, even if not directly impacted by the terrorist attack, were able to empathize. We collectively shared in their pain and suffering. We wept at candle light vigils. We held hands with and hugged strangers, because for a moment strangers we no longer strangers, they became family, and we were mourning the deaths of family members. When I looked at the TV and saw video of human beings jumping out of a building to escape burning alive, I saw my parents. I saw my family. I genuinely ached. Those were real, very human emotions and feelings. The way we felt is, I believe, human nature. By human nature, we would all empathetically care for ALL victims of war/terror, and we would rather die ourselves than have anyone else die, regardless of ‘race, color, or creed’. But our tears were hijacked and used as a justification for war. Violence begets violence. Terrorism begets terrorism. War begets war. Retired military generals beat war drums on all the news networks, but failed to disclose their military industry-filled stock portfolios. Our mourning was manipulated and turned into rabid cries for revenge. As if watching “other” people die and suffer would somehow make our psychological wounds heal, and that thinking leads to a never ending cycle of death and more death. The higher-ups in the ‘news’ business understand the human mind extremely well, they have studied it and mastered what it takes to get us to think a certain way, to feel a certain way, to buy a certain product,…to love and respect the lives of a certain group over another certain group. If you were able to see family when you looked at the violent, horrific images from September 11, 2001 why can’t you see the same when you read about or see pictures of what has come to be known as ‘collateral damage’… non-American innocent civilians killed. Are we really that nationalistic? Is that really what ‘patriotism’ looks like? (other than the fact there are few cameras pointing at innocent civilians in other countries)
I challenge you to think of your family the next time you hear about the wrong house being blown up “killing 10 civilians, including 6 children”. Think of your mother. Think of your siblings. Think of your own children. Think of how you felt, as singer Alan Jackson put it in a country music song, “on that September day”. Terrorism in any incarnation is inhumane and despicable, but what is indiscriminately killing innocent civilians, blowing up sewage treatment plants, crippling power grids,…if not ‘terrorism’? The death of ONE innocent civilian offsets the value of any justice that potentially comes from killing the people responsible. Borders are imaginary lines, we have been socialized to see differences in people from one geographical location on planet earth, and another. Beyond this, many of us have also been socialized (trained/programmed) ascribe different values to the lives of those within our own communities. We react differently when we hear about a white teenager in Longmeadow being killed by a peer, than to a black teenager from Springfield. We don’t try to come up with excuses and explanations as to how and why the white teenager could have been killed. It is a tragedy, and it is understood as such. Even if the white kid was killed in a dispute over drugs, it is viewed as a tragedy, he is portrayed in the best light possible, and the mayor probably says a few words at his funeral about how ‘we are failing our children, we have to do better’. The deaths of black men have been so normalized in our society, and black people never re-humanized after slavery, society simply shrugs at the news of a black teenager being killed, if we do anything at all. When people a few miles away, or even a few blocks away, are still so dehumanized that their deaths are written off as ‘sad, but inevitable’…if we can’t even see a black family living next door as family, see our own mother when we look into the eyes of their mother… what does that say for mothers in Pakistan being ‘accidentally’ killed by drones. Mothers in Afghanistan? Iraq? Yemen? Somalia? When the black kid next door is expendable, that does not bode well for the teenager in Pakistan who not only doesn’t look like someone we’re supposed to care about, but strike two against him is he prays to the wrong version of a monotheistic god, and strike 3 is that he did nothing to stop the attacks of September 11, 2001. When in reality, the people we have been basically indiscriminately killing for the past 13 years (far longer, but lets just discuss recent history)…these people are NO FUCKING DIFFERENT THAN THE PEOPLE KILLED ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. They are HUMAN BEINGS. Selfishly, you should care about them because if we all care about one another the same as we do our friends and family…maybe one day when America is no longer a powerful empire, and ‘we’ have been dehumanized into ‘them’…maybe, there will be enough folks who care about us, enough folks who see us as family, to prevent our slaughter at the hands of a new empire. Let’s reassess why we view the death of one innocent civilian by beheading as violent, aggressive, barbaric, inhumane… and the deaths of a dozen innocent civilians by a drone as acceptable. I would rather have my head cut off than be killed by a remote-controlled robot. However misguided, inhumane, and evil, the man killing you with the knife can see the blood on his own hands afterward. He hears you plead for your life, sees your chest rise and fall for the last time before he kills you, and hears you gurgling as you choke on your own blood before your the beheading is complete. There is literally visible blood on his hands. The result is exactly the same, though you can kill more than one at a time with a drone. The difference is that it’s far less personal, it is disturbingly sanitized, it is accepted. Saying ‘we didn’t mean it’ makes it better. Though we certainly do mean it. During World War One, the ratio of civilian to soldier deaths was 1 out of every 10. For every one civilian killed, there were 9 soldiers killed. Over the next century the numbers reversed. Today, it’s 9 civilians for every one soldier. Over 90% of those killed in war are innocent civilians. 10 % during World War One was too much, never mind 90 %. We don’t care about the deaths of the civilians, we barely pretend to care anymore about the deaths of the soldiers, and as a nation we have proved that we don’t give a fuck about the returning veterans, because if we did the veteran suicide epidemic would be the biggest news story in the country every day until things improved. There are nearly two-dozen veterans killing themselves every single day. That is a low estimate, but even using that estimate the equivalent of a new 9/11 happens EVERY 135 days. That means that there are the equivalent of 2.7 9/11′s every year just counting veteran suicides. The equivalent of nearly 30 new 9/11′s since we invaded Afghanistan, just counting veteran suicides. Within a few years of the attack, the death toll of firefighters dying from diseases related to their work in the weeks and months following the attack, surpassed the deaths of firefighters on 9/11. Let’s morn the loss of all innocent life, not only the lives of those we are told to mourn because it is politically convenient, American or otherwise. But since those we deem heroes (veterans and first responders) have been proven to be expendable by the government, and as a society we are socialized not to care, what chance does that mother in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else, have of us seeing our mother when we look into her eyes or hear her story? I challenge you all to care. Gandhi once said “If you cannot see God in the next person you walk by, you need look no further”. He didn’t mean that you have to actually walk past them…he was talking about everyone, including the expendable ‘collateral damage’ we so easily ignore.
As Dr. Paul Farmer said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”
We all matter.