9/11 was a tragedy of unbounded proportions for all touched painfully by it. I can only hope that those who suffered great loss that day have somehow found some peace in the time since. As a nation we certainly have not found any.
We rightfully felt the unspeakable injustice of innocent lives cruelly cut short, but as a nation we failed to fully enter into the grief of those whose loved ones died that day. Had we done so, we might have realized that what we were feeling was not so different from what families in Southeast Asia and Central America felt at the hands of US or US-backed forces.
This is not some anti-US rant. So please don’t misunderstand it as such. It is a plea for people to touch into the pain we experienced and realize it is the same pain that Vietnamese and Cambodians and Salvadorans and Guatemalans and Nicaraguans, among others, have felt.
Pursuing those responsible for 9/11 was reasonable, to the extent that it was done with every possible effort to avoid harming innocent people. But realizing the immense pain others have gone through because of US political calculations, especially when those calculations are anything but transparent and are mixed with economic motives, should give us a new perspective. It should make us very reluctant to cause more such pain.
Sadly, the US has shown little sign of retreating from aggressive responses to situations around the world. Arguably sometimes there is no seeming alternative. Islamist militants today show no signs of being open to reason, similar to the Nazis in the past. But missteps have fueled contempt and hatred, as they did in the post-World War I situation that the Nazis took advantage of.
But again, the point here is not what the US has done or not done, but what we might still be able to do. That in addition to feeling the pain all Americans have felt because of 9/11, there could be the realization that others feel the same pain. That they do not see that much of a difference between the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Towers in some vague ideological war against the US, and soldiers who destroyed villages and communities for some vague ideological war against communism. That war truly is a last resort.
At the same time, 9/11 was as ineffective at forcing the US to its knees as US military intervention has been at securing the democratic goals it supposedly has been aimed at. That too is something we could learn from.
Whether from a standpoint of compassion or practicality, aggression that causes avoidable civilian casualties leads only to more bloodshed and the strengthening of a war mentality. And technology is putting ever more destructive power into the hands of any who would wield it.
Nothing could commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 better than fully realizing how horrible it was and vowing to never cause such pain to anyone if there is any way to avoid it. We might then see that there are almost always ways to avoid it.
The photo, Tribute in Light, was taken by Francisco Diez