Fourteen years ago, today, was the horrific and senseless attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Around 2,955 people died in the attacks (including the 19 hijackers and the passengers of the four planes). As of today, 6,855 U.S. soldiers have died in the two wars that directly resulted from 9/11. By all measures, over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed as a result — some estimate the total to be as high as a million. The death toll in Afghanistan is over 90,000, including military and civilians.
These numbers give me pause and force me to reflect. For the deaths of less than 3,000 people, we responded by setting in motion the killing — at minimum — of 200,000 people, near half of them civilians. Even if we only include our own troops, we still sent enough troops to their deaths to more than double the number of our civilians who died on 9/11.
These are only the deaths. I have no information on how many of our troops were permanently wounded or disfigured during the fighting, though I’ve seen many of them in Killeen, and my wife often deals with them through her work. Some are mentally wounded and permanently disfigured. I’m sure the same is true on the other side of the ocean. How many hundreds of thousands of people were wounded, forced from their homes, or unlucky enough to see loved ones shot or bombed to bits?
I imagine that there are some who sit comfortably in their middle class homes, nodding, repeating the mantra that “it was worth it”. Perhaps a few who believe this were involved, maybe even wounded themselves, or lost a family member or spouse.
I can’t bring myself to believe that this end result is what a great majority of us envisioned when we supported war efforts right after 9/11. Perhaps we thought there would be an easy victory, that our troops would walk in, find the perps, and put them down surgically. But our leaders knew. President Bush warned publicly that the war “could be longer and more difficult than some predict” on the day we went into Iraq.
I do believe that the men who masterminded the 9/11 attacks saw it coming. There is no way they could have deluded themselves into thinking that the U.S. would just shrug. They knew if any of their planes succeeded in crashing into targets that we would be over there very soon, clumsily bombing and shooting up the place.
This leads me to one of two conclusions: (1) either they *wanted* us to be over there bombing and shooting, or (2) they didn’t want that, but decided it was an acceptable outcome.
What kind of mind could accept either option? I don’t know.
It is no consolation that an estimated 20 million soldiers and 30 million civilians died during World War 2, or that the totals for World War 1 were 8.6 million and 6.5 million. However, these absurd numbers do shed light on our species’ history of terrible violence and help us put the current wars into perspective.
I wonder whether the leaders in Europe in early 1914 would have acted differently if they could have been convinced their actions would result in 15 million deaths. I wonder whether the U.S. would have acted earlier than 1941 if we knew in advance that 50 million would die.
It’s been estimated that these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually cost around $6 trillion. That’s about a thousand bucks for every single person on the planet. Let that sink in, and think about how far $1,000 goes in some of these countries.
Without the ability to change our past history, the only reasonable, moral thing to do is to attempt to change future history, which has not yet been written.