On May 1st, 2011, the streets of America were filled with jubilant celebrations as cheers and chants floated on the night breeze, and painful memories healed somewhat upon hearing the news that our number one fugitive, Osama bin Laden, had been killed. A ghostly image that has been seared into our retina over the past nine years, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the tragic 9/11 attacks lay dead after being shot by special US armed forces.
I must admit I hardly celebrated in a similar manner as my fellow countrymen. Taken partly by surprise, then dull relief, the nine years of chasing down the ever-elusive mountain dweller has taken its toll. What was once believed possible faded into disappointed resignation, then slipped into the shadows of a mission forgotten. And then, out of the blue, his death was splashed across TV screens, computer monitors, and cell phone displays and the deaths of 3,000 American civilians had been avenged. But being the pessimist my mind has condemned me to be through this existence, all I could think of the manhunt that has ensued for nearly the past decade, when the costs were assessed, was that it was utterly pointless.
The attacks of 9/11 were a horrific tragedy, one of insurmountable hatred no one could wrap their minds around; one of heart-breaking pain time will never heal. The video of the plane bursting through the concrete of the second tower, the images of debris showering down over Manhattan, the dark dust cloud that loomed over New York City like Death lingering above a battlefield will never be forgotten. In no way do I wish to belittle these events, but as I’ve written before, our government’s response, backed by our nation, was one of swift, emotionally-fueled retribution without much consideration for consequences or by-product results. Hunting down bin Laden became, in our minds, the ultimate conclusion to this nightmare, the final goal. In our illusion, his death would not only bring justice, but closure, an end to all we’ve suffered. But, in the midst of our tireless efforts, we became reckless, and, paired with our power, we became dangerous. Throughout the years, a transformation occurred: while hunting the terrorists, we became them.
In the past ten years, it is estimated that the west’s war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq has resulted in the deaths of well over 500,000 innocent civilians, in spite of our government’s efforts to “minimize civilian casualties”. Excuses of misguided missiles and cases of mistaken identification did little to ease the daily fear and anxiety Iraqis and Afghanis suffered at the hands of our armed forces as helicopters soared over their homes and tanks rolled through their roads. Gruesome attacks of delusional and/or power-drunk soldiers rarely made headlines here in the states in order to avoid exposing the reality of this war and risk losing popular support, but some tales broke through: the wedding party that was shot up by soldiers on edge reacting to what sounded like gunfire (both the bride and groom were killed). The infamous video of the 2007 helicopter attacks on innocent reporters toting phones and cameras. The rape of a 14 year old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family. The slaughter of innocent civilians and the desecration of their bodies where soldiers took “keepsakes” for themselves. And the brutal murder of nine Afghani children, mistaken for insurgents, who were just out gathering firewood for their families.
Whether psychologically imbalanced from the strains of war or simply cold-blooded murderers, our government knowingly sent these individuals back into battle, terrorizing the people of these countries we viciously encroached upon without invitation or welcome. And they feared us. Will the soldiers come again? Will they shoot? Will they drop bombs? Will they destroy our homes? Will we die tonight? Our government has, in short, become the largest most powerful terrorist network in the world.
In addition to the overwhelming impact we’ve had on these poor people’s lives, we have sacrificed and lost so much more. Financially this war has become a sinkhole, exacerbating an already strained economy by spending what has become a trillion dollar expense. Our war-mongering antics have soured relations with many other powerful countries and our allies have slowly retreated. Our nation was immersed in a cloud of fear, apprehension, and distrust of the world around us, a distrust of ethnic and religious differences that turned into suspicion then anger and abuse. We have, in short, become a hateful, vengeful, hated, broke ass country that is still responsible for 166 times more civilian deaths after 9/11 than those the terrorists managed to obliterate on that fateful day. And this isn’t even our first time terrorizing other nations in retaliation. Many examples could be given, but the best I could provide to you is our response to the last attack on American soil, Pearl Harbor. A Japanese military attack that killed nearly 2,300 American soldiers, a country scorned and angry, and a bomb named Little Boy resulted in the deaths of 130,000 innocent Japanese civilians when the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima over an elementary school, killing women and children. Not quite satisfied with our finale, an encore was sent to Nagasaki three days later, killing 70,000 more civilians. Two hundred thousand innocent civilians who played no part in the decision to attack Pearl Harbor lost their lives so justice could be done. Likewise, the 500,000+ civilians of the Middle East played no part in 9/11, and it cost them just as much.
The wars we’ve fought beneath the guise of some higher cause, be it peace of mind, justice, or stopping the “evil-doers”, have gone above and beyond an eye for an eye as we engage in childish one-up-manship, leaving in our wake more destruction than has ever been dealt to us. And in spite of everything it’s cost us, we feel no safer; terrorism is not over, someone will take bin Laden’s place tomorrow and this war will continue as it has, but terrorism is not a bearded face with a turban. It’s not a particular religion in a particular region of the world. It’s an act anyone can commit. And we have. Was it worth it to become our enemy in order to kill him?
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce,especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear or submission produced by terrorism.