Remembering 9/11, Forgetting Iraq

Collective Amnesia and the War on Terror

On September 11th, my parents greeted me at the end of our driveway. They informed me that something bad had happened and asked if I knew what it was.

“You got fired?” I assumed.

No, they told me, as that pleasure would be reserved for a different event seven years from then. Instead they told me that an attack had occurred in New York, not too far from where my father worked.

I didn’t care. Why would I? I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. I couldn’t comprehend the loss of life, the fear, the hysteria, the years of deep paranoia and hate and warmongering that were to follow. Generally speaking, I remember very little from the Bush administration, besides that day and a sticker on my dad’s bag that featured the president’s face with the caption, “WANKER.”

I mark 2008 as the birth of my fledgling political consciousness, if you can even call it that. I was ‘aware’ of the 2008 election, and of then candidate Barack Obama. I was ‘aware’ that George Bush was bad, that the Iraq War was a ‘failure,’ and that Guantanamo Bay was a horrendous site of human rights violations. More importantly, I knew that Obama would put an end to all these things.

But he didn’t. Instead of withdrawal, we got troop surges. Instead of diplomacy, we got drone warfare and an extrajudicial kill list. Instead of closing Guantanamo Bay, we got, well, Guantanamo Bay. A vote for hope and change resulted in status quo policies and only a deeper military engagement in the Middle East.

So what happened? Was the anti-war movement reignited by this political betrayal? Did the people demand change, an end to the military oppression of Iraqi and Afghani people and an end to the war crimes committed by Western military powers?

I think answering this question is difficult because, at the end of the day, nothing happened. Troops surged and decreased and then surged again, reaching new lows toward the end of Obama’s presidency but never dropping below the thousands. Not only did we fail to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan but we added a few new side dishes to our plate too, served up by none other than celebrity chef Hillary Clinton. But don’t worry, I’m not accusing Obama of being the same as Bush, since only Obama could order drone strikes and imprison a trans woman who leaked evidence of American war crimes while looking #woke and doing most epic mic drops.

It’s fitting that the Obama campaign slogan of “Hope & Change” in 2008 evolved into the more accurate “Forward” in 2012, because that’s exactly what we got: no turning back, or even a change in direction, but a confident leader to helm America’s mass-extinction machine as we marched hopelessly into year after year of the War on Terror.

But we’ve lost our confident leader, haven’t we? We lack the charismatic figurehead who weeps about another mass shooting and their unnecessary frequency while unmanned drones drop yet another bomb on yet another innocent Yemeni family. When Trump speaks, liberals aren’t reassured that our constant propagation of war crimes is a necessary evil; it just looks regular evil.

It’s been seventeen years since 9/11 and the War on Abstract Badness shows no sign of stopping. We still have somewhere around 8,000 troops in Iraq, 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, and 1,000 troops in Syria. Despite all this talk of boots-on-the-ground, American boots never left the ground in the first place. And what are the results of our occupation? Al-Qaeda’s presence is just as strong as it was in 2003 — some even argue it’s stronger — while ISIS fills the power vacuum left by a gutted Iraq and a destabilized Syria.

And what of the men who weaponized the American public’s fear after 9/11 to make these atrocities possible? While the War on Terror spirals out into further bloodshed, its designers have never been so comfortable! David Frum writes op-eds for the New York Times, Bill Kristol appears on MSNBC, George W. Bush enjoys a 60% approval rating among Democrats. For all this talk of Trump “destroying the Republican Party,” the blind support of his tepid critics gave the last Republican administration a one-way ticket out of The Hague and into the hearts of American liberals. It shouldn’t surprise me that we swoon for the civil friendship between the Bushes and the Obamas, because to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, the violence was always bipartisan.

Soon, people born after 9/11 will be old enough to enlist in the war we waged in its name. Every year, we weep for 3,000 dead Americans but ignore 1,000,000 dead Iraqis. Every year, we funnel more money into our bloated military budget. Every year, we find a new war criminal to rehabilitate for their mild criticism of the current administration. Every year, we commit the exact same mistakes that caused 9/11 in the first place.

Every year, for all our talk of remembrance, we show our incredible ability to forget what we’ve done to the world.

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