I’m getting a lot of comments about the blog I posted yesterday about Sept. 11. Some of them were sent into the comments space, and some have come directly to me. I’ve tried to encourage the folks who sent directly to me to post to the comment space, or let me post for them. I’ve succeeded in some cases, but not in others.
The comments have generally been of two kinds. There are the people who wrote in and said they too were thinking about where they were and what their friends were doing that day in 2001. Some of them wrote about the friends they had lost. These are the people who, I guess, felt the way I did yesterday.
For me, it was a day of mourning and remembering the trauma that ripped through my family. My wife Linda’s from Brooklyn, and she has a lot of relatives in the New York area. We were both thinking about them yesterday, and thinking too about their friends and their friends’ friends, all that wide and complex set of connections we all worried about on 9/11 and the weeks after.
Like I said, it was a day of mourning for me, and I think it was a day of mourning too for some of the people who wrote in and told about their friends and family.
The other letters I got were from the people who felt that this anniversary of 9/11 called for something more than mourning. These letters suggested that the kind of emotions I was talking about in my piece “The Short View” were the kind of emotions that have gotten us into trouble politically, militarily, socially, and culturally. These letters suggested that politicians use the kind of emotions I was showing to their own ends, and that in this case, the ends were terrible, the continuation of a war in which there are more and more deaths each day with little accomplished and less in sight.
I really can’t argue with that bleak assessment of the war. The deaths are in fact terrible. I haven’t done much research but I’ve done some, and the numbers of dead and wounded suggest that there are a lot of people here and in Iraq who are mourning.
As of today, the Iraqi military and civilian death count since 2005 when the Iraqi Coalition Casaulties site (http://icasualties.org/oif/default.aspx) started counting is about 43,000. That’s about 37,000 Iraqi civilians.
As of September 10, 2007, the site reports 3,765 confirmed US military deaths with 9 pending confirmation. The Department of Defense has confirmed a little less than 37,000 military people wounded or medically evacuated. The DoD also reports 122 US suicides.
I really don’t know how to begin thinking about all of the human cost in misery and pain. About 48,000 people dead and a country that’s been chopped up and blasted apart? I was talking to a mathematician yesterday, and she told me that a person generally can’t imagine more than a thousand of anything. 48,000 deaths of US and Coalition Forces and Iraqis? It’s difficult to imagine a number of dead people that high. And the number of wounded on both sides? And the number of people touched by those deaths and those wounds? That’s harder still to imagine.
How high is it? It’s hard to say, but I know I’ve had students who went to Iraq, fought and were wounded in Iraq. We all know people “on our side” touched by this war. I used to commute a lot when I was teaching in Illinois and living in Georgia. Every week, I would pass through the airport in Atlanta – it was full of soldiers going to Iraqi. The odds are that some of those boys and girls never saw the US again. And the numbers on the other side? Higher still. Higher still.
When I wrote the “Short View” piece in 2001, I was responding to that time and what was going on in America. Am I ready to give up the “Short View” and start thinking only about the “Long View”?
I don’t think so.
I’m not an either/or sort of person. I can’t say I’ll stop being emotional, taking the short view, and start being rational and take the long view. I tend to see things as both/and. I don’t know where that comes from, maybe from my parents who both went through the slave labor camps and came out two very different people, maybe it comes from growing up bi-lingual and bi-cultural and generally confused by how complicated the world is. Whatever the reason, I’m hesitant to pin myself down, choose one side or the other.
I can take the short view, feel grief and mourning, but I can also feel that we need to close the book on America and Iraq, just the way the British did in 1917 when they invaded the country and found themselves fighting a war they could never win, against a country that didn’t want to see anything of them except their backside.