This week, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the United States is awash with reminders to “never forget.” I do remember. I remember it all…including the parts that we Americans would prefer to ignore.
I remember that we were attacked and 3000 civilians were tragically killed. I remember the first responders, who still bear scars on their bodies and their souls. I remember being in my office in Washington DC, a few blocks from the US Capital Building, which was a target, trying to figure out how to evacuate. Our solution was to carpool like mad to get colleagues away from the city center without using the subway, which was believed to be a target. I remember that was the first of a series of personal security incidents that left me with cumulative trauma. Yes, I’m OK now, thanks. But I also remember…
I also remember being in the National Cathedral a few days after 9/11 for the official government memorial service. I remember how viscerally I felt the collective mood shift from mourning to revenge while the crowd was singing a violent, twisted song called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I remember how from that moment onward, American culture began to morph in ugly ways. I moved shortly after that to Kosovo and then Southeast Asia…and I did not want to return to a USA that I no longer recognized.
I remember that the USA invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, contributing to the devastation that Afghans and Iraqis are experiencing today. I remember seeing soldiers sacrifice to slow down Al-Qaeda, even as dozens of new militant groups arose to take their place. We became experts in drone warfare…yet we kept accidentally hitting civilians. I remember that 900,000 people around the world have been killed in the name of the “War on Terror” (as estimated by the Brown University Costs of War project).
I remember that hundreds of thousands of American Muslims have had their characters maligned, their places of worship surveilled and their civil rights violated in the name of “security.” I remember that my friends are still racially profiled nearly every time they try to board an airplane. I remember seeing relationships between people groups become increasingly suspicious, polarized and broken. I realize that much of my work over the past 20 years has been an attempt to help clean up the mess.
I remember that we were attacked, and it was unspeakably horrible. I remember that we made poor choices afterwards, and it became even worse. I am glad that we will have fresh, new choices to make tomorrow.