9/11: You Cannot Forget What You Didn’t Know

I remember a lot of things about September 11, 2001. I was there; in Manhattan. I was 13 years old. It was the second day of 8th grade. I was in art class when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember the chaos, the smoke, the dust, the fear, the confusion. I’ll never forget the horror of watching the buildings fall on live TV, watching people jump to their deaths, or listening to the victims’ last phone calls to their families. I’ll never forget that day, or the day after, when my mom took me to Ground Zero to make sandwiches for the rescue workers. I’ll never forget the hole in the city skyline, or the unfamiliar ring of Arabic words that became household names overnight.

I’ll never forget September 11th, but every year, when my feed fills up with reminders to “NEVER FORGET” — I feel anger and irritation at the misguided empty patriotism, the myopia, and the delusion of our selective memories.

I will never forget the 2,996 people who died on September 11th. But I will also never forget the 929,000 people who died due to direct war violence in 85 countries in the 20 years since. I will never forget the 7,052 American service members who have died in the line of duty, nor the 30,000+ veterans who have committed suicide afterward. I will never forget the 38 million people displaced by our wars, or how George W. Bush told us all to keep shopping to show the terrorists that they didn’t win.

But they did win. Today, 20 years later, the Taliban control Afghanistan again. They are joyfully celebrating their victory in the streets of Kabul. The corrupt and inept government we propped up for years fell without so much as a whimper. We lost the war. Was it worth fighting in the first place?

In our collective attempt to overcome the trauma of that attack, we failed to learn anything. We plunged ourselves into forever wars and became a surveillance state, giving up our rights to an overreaching government that has used its newfound privileges without integrity. We used our own trauma as justification for violence, racism and xenophobia.

Never forget? You can’t forget what you never knew. Most of us have no idea what the true cost of September 11th has been. We literally haven’t paid for it yet. The forever wars have cost 8 trillion dollars — borrowed money, which is accumulating interest. These wars were fought by troops from mostly poor, rural neighborhoods — to whom much was promised, much was expected, and little has been given back.

We have lived the last 20 years with only the vague awareness that bad things were happening somewhere to someone, but every year, we choose to “remember” what happened on one day 20 years ago. That is insane.

When I think about what else we could have done with that money — the social and physical infrastructure we could have built; the people we could have educated; rehabilitated; and healed; the entrepreneurship and invention we could have nurtured; the technology we could have invested in — it makes me want to explode.

The psyche of a nation is not that different from the psyche of an individual. Trauma is painful and it is easier to dissociate and repress than process and discharge. But if we don’t start processing this trauma honestly, bravely; if we don’t experience shame, and sorrow, and regret; we will keep poisoning the well from which we all drink. We will keep telling stories that do not serve us; or anyone. We will keep telling stories that simply aren’t the whole truth.

Never forget?

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