Monday, September 12, 2011

Why 9/11 Isn't Such a Big Deal

I'll start with the disclaimers. 9/11 is a big deal. Roughly 3000 people died quickly while people watched on camera in a way that was shocking for most of the world. People's husbands, fathers, etc. died when they had every expectation of returning home that evening. That is heart rending, and I respect that.

But I can't help but notice that everyone else seems a great deal more affected by it than I was. So, I've been trying to analyze why my heart and mind is relatively unscathed by 9/11, outside of the obvious reason that no one I know personally was killed.

I had been in Germany for just over three months as a missionary when it happened. I was at the end of my "greenie" assignment, in my very first area. I did not get on with my trainer particularly well, and was having a hard time adjusting. We only had one American family in our branch. Ironically, we were scheduled for lunch with her and her son that day. She took us to a German interpretation of a 50s diner, complete with a pink Cadillac converted into a center table. There were televisions in the corners. They watched in avid horror as the stations replayed the footage of the Twin Towers attacks again and again. I watched relatively dispassionately. The Germans in our area expressed their condolences for several days afterwards. Forget sharing the gospel, everyone wanted the voyeuristic glimpse into our feelings about the attacks.

None of my illusions were shattered that day. Perhaps not all military brats feel the way I do, but I was raised learning how to duck and cover. I was taught biowarfare and chemical warfare emergency plans alongside reading, math, and social studies in elementary school. My dad taught us how to blend into our local surroundings, so we did not stick out as Americans. I went to high school my Freshman year behind razor wire and Security Police. During the Gulf War, I had to get through the dogs and mirrors routine of Alpha security in order to get home from school every single day. I know what can . . . and can't . . . be done about these things. And I was impressed deeply with the understanding of my own vulnerability. Once you have lived through two live bomb threats, you cease to be as shocked.

I grew up knowing that the U.S. was vulnerable.

So when I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers, when I heard reports about the other planes, I mostly felt relief that it wasn't footage of masses of people dying on American soil from E. bola or some other rapid incurable disease. I was grateful that it wasn't a nuclear bomb, with radiation affecting our genetics for generations.

3000 people is certainly tragic. But put it into perspective. In the U.S., half that many women die each year at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends, which means 15,000 have been victims of intimate partner homicide since 9/11. There is an estimated 1,500 child abuse fatalities and 18,000 permanently disabled each year. More than five times the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks are killed every year in alcohol related crashes. Six times that many die from drug overdoses.

The real enemy is not a few terrorists running planes into our towers, showy and frightening as they may be. The real enemy is our neighbors . . . ourselves.

And that truly frightens me.


  1. 9/11 was a tragedy, but I think you are right that we've lost our sense of proportion. For example, I tell people that over 100,000 (some estimates show many times more than that) foreign civilians have died since then at the hands of the American military in the Middle East, and people hardly bat an eye. One person even said, "Good. That's what they get for attacking us." (As if these unarmed women and children were somehow responsible, and as if 100,000 deaths is a proportionate response to 3,000 deaths).

    Life is risk. We all have a chance of dying for a variety of reasons. The risk of a criminal terrorist attack ending our lives is one of the smaller risks we take. I'm not sure mitigating that risk is worth the tradeoff in loss of privacy, endless war, loss of foreign life, loss of freedom, and constant paranoia. And, I don't think those things actually make us any safer, but perhaps less so.

    Osama bin Laden is dead. Perhaps it's time we pack up, go home, and call it a day. And perhaps it's time to devote that massive treasure, time, and manpower to combating homicide and child abuse, instructing women to recognize emotional abuse, and to educating people about the horrors of drug addictions.

  2. Also, I think a contributing factor in all this is that people fear unexpected death more than they ever have. Our society and culture is more morally vacuous than it has ever been, and people are more scared than they've ever been to see what lies in the next world. But it's not just fear of death, because people gorge on fast food knowing that it will kill them. It's fear of people being the instruments of death. It used to be that an ordinary man could walk around with a gun strapped to his waist and no one would care. Now, just a glimpse of a gun under your jacket (even if you have permits) can get the police called on you.

  3. Thanks for putting it in perspective. 9/11 is a big deal because it is deliberately exploited in a way to make it a big deal it's used to "justify" wars war spending the Patriot Act TSA etc. If it hadn't occurred it would have been politically expedient to create it.

  4. Thanks SilverRain for your thought provoking post. I agree that less noticed tragedies happen all the time and also result in a huge loss of life. They do indeed reveal that danger can even come from our neighbors.

    I think a partial reason people hold a different perspective on 9/11 is written in your disclaimer. 3000 people lost their lives within the space of a few hours and basically all within New York City (the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania being the also tragic exceptions). And it was on television all day long for at least a week. Unfortunately, partner and child abuse/homicide doesn't get that kind of coverage, except in rare cases.

    That said, we should still try to keep things in perspective and recognize that tragedy exists in so many forms, all of which should be mourned. And neither do I commend those who have exploited the 9/11 tragedy in the name of patriotism and by so doing have added to the suffering in the world. I'd much rather work to build Zion than promote a twisted form of patriotism.

  5. 9/11 was a big deal to me - not because people died, but because it became justification for more wars and more killing.

    At the same time, I feel similarly to you. At the time of 9/11, I had just gotten out of an abusive marriage and (unbeknownst to me) was about to start a new one. I've never been afraid of the strangers. I feel more safe on the streets than I once did in my own home.

    Thanks for writing this.


Unfortunately, I've found it necessary to screen comments. Unless your comment violates the commenting policy, it will show up as soon as I can approve it.

Popular Posts