On this day in what the Gregorian calendar calls 2001, nineteen terrorists carried out an attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as an attempted attack on the US Congress. In the attack, 2996 people died; as there were 19 terrorists, the civilian death toll was 2979. Due to the magnitude of this disaster, the day of September 11 has been more ingrained into the mindset of the United States than possibly even December 07 (we don’t have a holiday like “Patriot’s Day” on December 07, do we?), and have mourned the lives lost to unprovoked foreign attackers on that unfortunate day every year since.
So surely, it is a disaster of unparalleled magnitude, overshadowing all the diminutive smaller tragedies that have occurred since then? But then, why do we hear the numbers of statistics that are screaming to differ?
On 2005 October 08, an earthquake devastated Kashmir, resulting in at least 80000 deaths. On 2008 May 12, another earthquake struck Sichuan, causing almost 70000 deaths, literally shattering families as it intersected with the one child policy. On 2004 December 26, a magnitude-9 earthquake in Sumatra and the resulting tsunami killed more than 220000 people around an entire ocean. The 2010 January 12 earthquake in Haiti killed 316000 people, about 3% of Haiti’s entire population. (In case anyone is wondering, 2979 is less than 0.0004% of New York City, and that’s after taking the clearly incorrect and over-exaggerating assumption that all victims were from or even in New York City.) A 2003 December 26 earthquake in Iran, even, killed over 27000 people, still more than nine times the number of people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks, and everyone remembers when each December 26 people mourn the people who died in the 2003 Iran earthquake. (Seriously, does even Iran mourn the 2003 Iran earthquake?)
Which of these events do we remember more than, say, Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1833 people in 2005? Cyclone Nargis killed over 130000 in Myanmar in 2008, and we don’t hear nearly as much about that, nor as much finger-pointing as to who doesn’t understand levees.
Suppose September 11 is argued to be more painful because it’s what humans inflicted on humans? For every year for a long time now, more than 10000 die each year in the United States from gun homicide. Does it need to be a terrorist attack? Hundreds dying a year from terrorists in places like Iraq are a common occurrence. How often do we take time to remember this?
If anything, the average American needs to realize how privileged the United States is to be able to consider the death of 2979 people the disaster of the era, because elsewhere in the world, 2979 deaths is the result of a small disaster. Why should we care about the rest of the world? There’s many reasons, including of course that it’s good to care about others, and that at least now, other than in ability to export porn, there’s been some country out there that has generally become better than us at practically anything. Most importantly, though, we should care about the goings-on in the rest of the world because we are unable to keep ourselves out of the rest of the world’s business.
And this is why I will end here with the most disconcerting set of statistics of all to relate to September 11. Recall that the civilian death toll from the September 11 attacks was 2979. The number of the terrorists that carried out the attack that were Iraqi: 0. The number Iraqi civilians that were killed in the Iraq War that precipitated from the American invasion of Iraq: over 117000. To any mildly reasonable person, the War on Iraq clearly constituted the larger crime.
And so, this September 11, I ask that you take a moment to think of and remember the 117000 innocent lives that we stole from Iraq, and to remember that this is not even an outbreak but rather a recurring pattern of American history, and that with us looking like we are getting into the Middle East again, it looks like this…will end no time soon.