9/11 - A Reflection
By Peter Wirth
9/11 was no abstraction to me. My mother worked at the World Trade Center years ago and I remember the magnificent view of the city and harbor from her office. The day of the attack a friend from my old neighborhood was in the building and felt the shock of the second plane hitting as he fled down the fire stairwells.
Another friend was not so lucky. His cousin was above where the planes hit and she did not survive. The news of her daughter's death caused her mother to have a heart attack.
What happened that day to thousands of civilians is beyond comprehension. I will never forget the footage of people jumping, some hand in hand, rather than being burned to death.
That day changed the United States and the world. While there was initially great sympathy and support for the United States after the attack, I believe we have acted in a fashion that has lost that support and created more enemies.
9/11 was an opportunity to take a look at our own actions around the world amid the emotions of pain, anger and grief we collectively suffered as a nation. It was an opportunity to try and see the world through the eyes of other people. Not to justify what happened, but perhaps to try and understand what happened.
The people involved need to be tracked down and tried. The killing of innocent civilians is never acceptable.
It is hard to image what went through the minds of the terrorists on the plane as they looked at the men, women and children they would soon be killing. What was the justification they used to condemn hundreds on the planes and thousands in the World Trade Center to a horrible death?
Our anger and grief as a nation was understandable. We found people to blame and lashed out. We are still acting in that fashion and have missed an opportunity or perhaps are unwilling to take a look at our own actions as a nation.
In the early 1980's I heard a Catholic missionary speak about parishioners who were being murdered in the name of state security. This led to my ten year involvement in Central America.
As I learned more about the history of the region I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that in the name of state security and “Cold War” politics we toppled governments who we decided did not support our national agenda. We helped put in place military run governments who in order to stay in power, killed tens of thousands of their own civilians.
I see a disturbing parallel, which I think as a nation is worth reflecting on, between the actions of our own government and the men on the plane that day. The men on the plane personally killed thousands of people. Policies set in Washington by our elected leaders since the 1950's resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians by governments we supported. In Guatemala the number of civilians killed since 1954, mostly by government security forces is estimated at 200,000. We assisted Guatemalan military leaders to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz administration in 1954 and then supported Guatemalan military leaders for decades.
We supported a government who in one sense committed a 9/11 against their own people every year for over 50 years.
It is unimaginable for most Americans to think that the policies of our government have been responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians. We can't imagine what went through the minds of the terrorists that day but we also don't give much thought to what was done during the “Cold War” in our name.
While the “Cold War” is over the “War on Terror” is just beginning. Unless we come to grips with what we were willing to do to win the “Cold War” we will repeat history and wonder why people around the world are skeptical of our policies and do not trust us.
Iraq a good example. Saddam the dictator was useful to us in the 90's even while he was killing his own people so we supported him. After 9/11, Saddam had to go in the name of stopping terrorism.
The United States is on a dangerous path. We are still acting out of pain, fear and anger. It is a time for some introspection and a little humility concerning our role in the world.
It is time for a new foreign policy.
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pwirth2 @ verizon.net