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The Artist Abroad

What have we learned from 9/11?

/ 05:31 PM September 13, 2011

A section of steel from the World Trade Center is shown on display at the Patriot Memorialin Wellington, Florida. AP

New York—On the 10th anniversary of the horrific tragedy of 9/11, I find I have little to add in terms of how the collapse of the twin towers has affected all New Yorkers, whatever ethnicity, political or religious beliefs they may have. So much in the public arena—whether in print, the Internet, radio, and TV—has been devoted to this particular anniversary that the risk of being maudlin and trite is too great, at least for me, to add to the babble. Besides, I have had my fill of narrow memorializing. Much of the current commentary adds nothing new and is often simply a rehash of what has already been said.

Most if not all of the commemoration was centered on the living and the dead in the U.S. Eloquent speeches, stirring recollections, photographs of the burning towers, and the devastation wrought on and after 9/11 were designed to make their audiences teary eyed and to never forget: all this is completely understandable, an integral aspect of not just grieving but keeping the memories of those loved ones alive. However each individual chooses to remember in private that brilliant Tuesday morning is his or her prerogative.

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But the public rituals are a different story. I doubt if I was the only one who felt the palpable, highly charged absence in all the preordained remembering: nary a mention of other victims of 9/11—victims elsewhere, not at Ground Zero or the Pentagon or in Pennsylvania. Who mourns for the innocent dead of Iraq and Afghanistan, for the civilians in Pakistan killed by drones targeting jihadists? Who prays for them? Who invokes their memory? I am sure there are those who do so in the U.S. and more power to them, but the death tally of the men, women, and children in these countries far surpasses that of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania crash combined. The body count for Iraqis, civilians and combatants combined, ranges from a low of more than 150,000 to a high of more than a million. For coalition troops, including the U.S., the count is more than 7,000. Estimates of civilian deaths in Afghanistan range between 34,000 and 54,000. Coalition casualties through this year stand at 2,711. The injunction of an eye for an eye has been more than met, and yet these wars go on and people continue to die.

By the end of this year, according to Congressional records, the U.S. will have spent close to $2 trillion on both wars. The costs in Afghanistan and Iraq are $6.7 billion and $6.2 billion per month respectively, or almost $13 billion a month. (The cost of the Iraq War has gone down, due to the troop reduction there, while that in Afghanistan has gone up due to troop increases.) Such expenditures are especially hurtful when the economy has relocated to the deep south. Twenty-seven million are unemployed or partially unemployed, income inequality has widened rather than lessened even as those who caused the financial crisis continue for the most part to take home fabulous salaries, homes are being foreclosed, and social services for not just the lowest on the totem pole but for the middle class are being cut, with Tea Partiers (genetically incapable, in my view, of reasoned thinking and, more importantly, compassion) and their Republican lackeys cheering essentially for government to melt down.

What jobs are there for the mostly working-class young men and women returning from the current wars? Very, very few. And Bush’s Global War on Terror for which they enlisted is itself a war of terror, and certainly one, as I said in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, of error. The architects of this militarily and morally senseless war in Iraq—shouldn’t they be seen as terrorists? Shouldn’t they be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague? Because of their lies and disinformation, because of their macho desire for revenge, their hawkish intent to assert the supremacy of the American eagle, thousands of innocent Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani lives have been wasted. The families left behind: what solace do they possess? Their griefs surely are equally demanding of our compassion, we who claim to be moral creatures. Then again, the deaths of people of color, especially foreign people of color, tend to get short shrift in the American popular imagination, vide the Philippine-American, Korean, and Vietnam wars.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad Osama Bin Laden is dead, that Al Qaeda has been weakened, though I am under no illusion that the threat of terror from fundamentalists will go away anytime soon, whether Christian or Islamic.

And the millions who have economically been affected negatively by the costs of these two wars, shouldn’t they too be considered victims of 9/11?

My own hope, seemingly futile, I suppose, is that the war fever that has gripped this country for over a century be broken. Perhaps more than a Department of Defense, more than a Pentagon, we need a Department of Peace—once proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich during the Democratic primary for the presidency in 2008. Or in the words of John Lennon: Give Peace a Chance. I had both in mind when I wrote the following poem, published as part of a suite of poems that dealt with 9/11, in a collection titled Museum of Absences, that came out in 2004.

Prayer for Peace

May a bird kill a cannon

and a baby destroy a gun

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May buildings banish missiles

and children stop tanks

May a mother’s love bury bombs

and hand grenades

May palm trees and olive groves

overwhelm planes with their

beauty and bounty

May the rivers and the earth repel

all things that stain and sully them

May blood spilled flow back into the

veins of the innocent dead

May families rise up out of the ashes

to break bread once more

May love curl around the barren hearts of men

May the flowers of imagination bloom in their minds

May our wars be only of words, never of swords

May the gods we pray to be

without history, without names

without nations, without creeds

without religion

May I love you in laughter and grace all the

Days without end.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2011

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TAGS: 9/11, Acts of Terror, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, commemoration, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, Peace, Terrorism, United States, US, War, World Trade Center
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