The Bushes and the Obamas at the 10th anniversary observances of 9/11 in New York
Broadcast to the world via international television, a young man spoke poignantly at the observance of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in New York of the regret he felt that his father was not there to teach him to drive a motor-car, to see him graduate from high school, and to give him advice on his first date.
His father and almost 3,000 others were the victims of four suicide pilots and their accomplices who, in and unforgivable act of terror, crashed planes into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania. The names of each of these victims were read-out by tearful and emotional family members amid a stirring ceremony in the presence of both current President Barack Obama, and former President George W Bush, under whose watch the incidents occurred.
Americans were entitled to mourn the victims of 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of their death. And, America, as a nation is entitled to assert its resolve to protect itself from any such further attacks upon its civilians by terrorist groups from anywhere in the world.
But, in many other parts of the world for over a century, there have been – and still are – young men whose fathers were not there to teach them to drive a car, to see them graduate from high school and to give them advice on their first date. Those fathers were – and are -- also innocent civilians. Some of them were – and are being -- killed by the action of United States military forces in their countries. In many of them the wars – in which they were victims – were not simply of their countries’ making; they were also conflicts created by American and other governments in pursuit of what they considered their national interests.
On September 12, one of the candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination for the US presidency, Ron Paul, made the point that America is under threat because “we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world”. He continued, “If we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there”? Sadly, he was booed and jeered by sections of the audience and other Republican candidates with whom he was debating.
But, if the countries about which Ron Paul spoke had television stations with a global reach, like CNN and the BBC, they could regularly broadcast scenes of grieving families and patriotic leaders lamenting the loss of loved ones. If they called out the names of the many civilians killed, the number would be several times more than the 3,000 whose lives were ended by misguided and misled zealots acting on the instructions of America’s enemies.
9/11 looms large in the minds of Americans because it is the first time since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor that America suffered an assault on its own soil and the first ever on the mainland. It also looms large because of modern communications. Instant television coverage brought the full horror of the planes crashing into the New York twin towers directly into the living rooms of practically every American family. Similarly, in the run-up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it was impossible not to be caught-up in the occasion. American media – quickly joined by the BBC and Sky Television, the global broadcasters from Britain – permeated their broadcasts with it, filled with all the pathos, anguish, and sorrow it engenders.
But, greater balance is needed. These same broadcasters carry almost daily news clips of US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq but without the anguish over the many civilians that are killed. “Collateral damage” is the term used to describe these innocent dead. Yet, they – like the victims of 9/11 – are somebody’s father, mother, husband, wife, or child. They too leave behind a grieving family, forced to survive without them. There are no official figures, but such figures as have been compiled put the civilian deaths at well over 10,000.
None of this is to say that there have not been regimes in some countries that were – and are – cruel and despotic, and deserve to be removed since they deny their own people the democratic machinery to do so. But this ought not to be a selective process; one that America joins to pursue its economic or political interest.
Containing despotic regimes and removing them when they mount aggressive campaigns against other countries, and when they set upon their own people, should be the task of the United Nations Security Council. Further, there should be no double standard applied to errant regimes. The criteria for UN intervention should be objective and uniform.
Of course, until the member governments of the UN Security Council themselves apply such objective criteria, the way will remain open for the US, which remains the most powerful military nation in the world, to act against regimes against which it claims a fear of terrorist threat. The doctrine of “pre-emptive strikes”, which started under Ronald Reagan and was perfected under George W Bush, will not go away, even though the current presidency of Barack Obama has tried to take a more measured stance. The Republican “hawks” in Congress and the intemperate “Tea Party” faction will continue to agitate for more unilateral and offensive measures whenever they judge, however exaggeratedly, that America is at risk.
So, while the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was rightly an occasion for sympathizing with the families of the close to 3,000 innocent civilians who became the victims of anti-American zealotry, it should also have been an occasion for commiserating with the families of thousands of other innocent civilians in other countries who fell victim to military action ordered by others, and whose names are not inscribed in stone but have been obliterated in dust.
Cross-border terrorism, such as 9/11 will not die with the killing of zealots like Osama bin Laden, nor will it be terminated by the imprisonment of activists of extremist organizations like al Qaida, although the latter is necessary. It will end when all governments adhere to principles of fairness and equity in their international relations, and when democracy and rights are respected and upheld by all in national and global governance.
Until then there will be many more families all around the world grieving for the loss of innocent civilian lives. That, unfortunately, is another side of 9/11.