By Guest Writer: Elizabeth Horstman
This morning I awoke to a chilly, rainy day in the USA. I pulled on my Vietnamese-made slippers, brewed a pot of Colombian coffee, and flipped open my laptop (assembled in China) to find my Facebook newsfeed assaulted by a barrage of images of the Twin Towers, American Flags, and phrases like, “Never Forget!” and “God Bless America!”
I knew this was coming. It’s September 11th. I’m not surprised, but I am outraged.
I am outraged not by the patriotism, but rather by the call to forever remember the innocent lives lost 14 years ago while blatantly ignoring the innocent lives still being lost today, simply because those lives weren’t lost on American soil. I saw not a word about the Syrian refugee crisis, the largest the world has seen since WWII (and that was due to the Holocaust, if you are blindly unable to equate that yourself). None of my friends posted anything about the 300,000 dead children resulting from the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11. The American consensus seems to lie along the lines of, “Oh, but this happened in the US! We are more worthy of respect than the rest of the world and American lives lost are worth more than anyone else’s! Why would anyone want to attack us? We are right and you are wrong if you disagree with us, and you should just accept our intrusions, occupations, overthrows of your governments and ravaging of your resources, because it will help us, and what helps us helps you!” To hear Americans tell the story, you would think the US had just been sitting here peacefully for 200 years, minding our own business, when two planes representing everyone who belongs to a certain religion/ethnicity/culture came out of nowhere and attacked civilians for no reason at all.
I’m outraged that Americans refuse to acknowledge our own violent history, our own invasions of otherwise peaceful lands with the sole intent of forcefully pilfering their resources for the sake of acquired wealth just because we can, our own genocide of Native Americans, our own contribution to the destruction of Africa, and our own role in the destabilization of the Middle East.
I’m outraged that we “civilized” people allow the media to depict all Muslims as terrorists intent on destroying the United States, and that we refuse to acknowledge that Islam is, at its core, a religion of peace, just because there is a small minority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims who are twisting their religion around to incite conflict and bloodshed. You know what else is a peaceful religion? Christianity. Yet we allow Christians to blow holes in the bible in order to justify acts of violence and vengeance. We act like all Muslims are out to destroy the Christian world, but when radical Christians spew hate speech against people they don’t agree with, when they picket funerals and refuse constitutional rights based on their interpretation of God’s word, well, they’re just an outlandish extreme who don’t represent the whole. How are we so blind to the hypocrisy in this situation? Or are we just unapologetically hypocritical as an American rite of passage?
I’m outraged that anyone is distorting “Never Forget” (a phrase originating after the Holocaust, meaning those who forget history are doomed to repeat it) into a warning to foreign countries that we are powerful and you better not try to invade our God-given land, because we’ll destroy you. American Logic: Never forget about the 3000 Americans killed on 9/11, but please forget about the 300,000 dead Syrians murdered at the hands of a despotic regime we have done nothing to hinder over the last 40 or so years. Please forget about the two Japanese cities we blew off the map without more than a shrug of our shoulders. Please forget about the unknown amount of lives lost in Vietnam (including 58,000 Americans who never came home), because that was an epic failure, oops, sorry. Please forget about the millions we allowed Stalin to enslave and murder because the Soviets were our allies against the Third Reich. Please forget that we are only here in America because we committed genocide against the people who were already here when we “discovered” this land. Please forget that we treated Africans as sub-humans and it took us until the fucking twentieth century to get that mess figured out on paper. Please forget that Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights, because they are generous with their oil and we don’t want to piss them off by calling them out on their misogynistic, homophobic, archaic brutality. Please forget that even though we successfully removed ourselves from England’s rule because we believed it to be a “self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by certain unalienable rights,” and that “governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” we supported the same British rule of India, and the same Western dominion of any country in which we and our allies take a fancy to instituting our own democracy without the consent of the governed, because those unalienable rights are only for Americans. Not all Americans, though.
Pretending history doesn’t exist unless it’s the kind of history that justifies our greed on the basis of “freedom” is not actually helping the US or anyone else in the long term. The Ottoman Empire was a terrorist organization. The Crusaders were a terrorist organization. The Holy Roman Empire was a terrorist organization, and Washington, D.C. is the new Rome.
The United States of America is not the greatest country in the world. Statistically, we rank 5th in education, 16th in quality of infrastructure, 20th in gender equality, 34th in life expectancy, and 37th in healthcare. More than 30 countries experience lower rates of infant mortality, and over 150 countries have lower rates of diabetes and heart disease. You know what ominous category in which the US does rank #1? Military spending. Yet, somehow our entire VA system is absolute garbage, as any veteran would be glad to tell you. We are home to the world’s largest population of billionaires and enjoy the world’s highest GDP, yet we are the proud owners of the world’s largest external debt and highest government budget deficit.
This is a country run for the corporate interest, by the corporate interest, with absolutely no shits given for the people. Our economy is in the toilet and we blame the poor people, instead of the corporations who sent their jobs overseas. We have successfully downgraded our culture from “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to “Wait, stop, close the borders, immigrants are taking over a country built by immigrants,” and “Oh, you’re a refugee from a war-torn country the US helped ravage with its own political agenda? You can’t survive in Mexico because the US government supplied the cartels with the weapons they used to pillage your village? No, thank you. Stay in your own country and fix your own problems.”
This is not Obama’s fault. This is not Bush’s fault. The fault is on the American people, for perpetuating a convoluted two-party system, for buying into the media’s fear-mongering, for electing politicians who represent corporate interests over the needs of the American people.
9/11 was an awful, horrible act of terror that shook the world and changed America forever, but in all the wrong ways. Now we live in fear of a culture we don’t understand and don’t even try to understand. Now we allow our government to slowly and silently strip us of our rights in the name of “homeland security.” Now we battle ISIS, an organization created in response to several generation’s worth of Western occupation, desecration and destruction. Many innocent lives were lost on 9/11, and there’s nothing good about that, but it is far from the only horrific historical event worth remembering if we are to save ourselves from the arrogance that will doom us to burn like Rome.
14 years ago today, every American watched in horror as we saw the effects of war carried out on our own soil for the first time in a generation. It was savage, it was brutal, and it was tragic, yet still the most destitute of born-and-raised Americans have never seen their entire hometowns destroyed, their mothers raped, their fathers torn in half by bullets, and their homes burned to the ground. The poorest in America can still find food in garbage cans and can still access clean water from a public source, two luxuries not shared by much of the world’s population, and yet somehow America still likes to play the victim. The fact that I was born in America by chance does not make me more worthy of basic human rights than anyone who was unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Human rights are universal and cannot be doled out by personal opinion dependent on race, religion, ethnicity, or country of origin. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Brown lives matter. American lives matter. Syrian lives matter. Christian lives matter. Muslim lives matter. The lives lost on 9/11 matter and should never be forgotten, but neither should any of the other lives lost to political conflict, and if you think your American life is of more value than a life halfway across the planet, you’re part of what’s wrong with this world.