This is a guest post by Mordecai Specktor, Editor and Publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper. This article originally ran in the September 2, 2011 print version of the newspaper.
On the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush was sitting with second-graders in Sarasota, Fla. They were reading The Pet Goat, when Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, entered Sandra Kay Daniels’ class at Emma E. Booker Elementary School and reportedly whispered in the president’s ear: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”
The kids in the class are now 16 and 17, and they vividly recall being eyewitnesses to history.
“In a heartbeat, he leaned back and he looked flabbergasted, shocked, horrified,” Lazaro Dubrocq, now 17, recently told Time magazine. “I was baffled. I mean, did we read something wrong? Was he mad or disappointed in us?”
Another student in the class that Tuesday morning, Mariah Williams, 16, told the magazine: “I don’t remember the story we were reading — was it about pigs? But I’ll always remember watching his face turn red. He got really serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just 7. I’m just glad he didn’t get up and leave, because then I would have been more scared and confused.”
Pundits continue to weigh in as to whether Bush should have excused himself at the moment he learned about the attack on America, or if he was right in choosing to sit there for another 10 minutes reading The Pet Goat.
The more serious questions, however, are about Bush’s decision to wage war in Afghanistan and then leave that country in chaos, as his administration launched a benighted war against Iraq. More than 4,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq; more than 32,000 have been wounded. The Pentagon states that one in four U.S. soldiers returns with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment.
Casualties for Iraqi soldiers and civilians are hard to determine precisely. The Iraqi Health Ministry reported that around 130,000 Iraqis were killed in the first three years of the war — 2003 to 2006 — according to morgue records. A study by The Lancet, the British medical journal, reported more than 654,000 “excess violent and nonviolent” Iraqi civilian deaths in a comparable period. In addition, the United Nations reports that 2.2 million Iraqis have fled the country since 2003.
The U.S. has spent roughly one trillion dollars on the Iraq War. However, Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes have put the total cost at $3 trillion. Of course, this is more money than anyone can imagine, and it represents a staggering cost to a nation that is having difficulty funding social needs in the persistent economic downturn.
Continuing this retrospective look at America’s post-9/11 wars, more than 1,750 U.S. troops have died fighting in Afghanistan, the war that President Obama promised to prosecute. We recently killed Osama bin Laden, and many civilians apparently are being killed by Coalition drone strikes. The U.S. is reportedly spending $2 billion per week on the Afghanistan war; but those clamoring to put the federal budget on a low-cal diet rarely mention this fact.
The burden of the U.S. wars is borne by soldiers and their families; many Americans seem to have tuned out news of the ongoing conflicts. Neither do they seem to be particularly concerned about the curtailment of civil liberties under the rubric of the “war on terror.” Bush asserted his right, as a “war president,” to detain individuals (both foreigners and U.S. citizens), deny them legal counsel, torture them, render them to countries for more brutal torture, and kill them without any judicial oversight. I’m not sure that this situation has improved with the Obama administration taking over the war-making chores.
Late in the post-9/11 decade, my family got a taste of governmental hysteria about dissent, when my son, Max, was arrested prior to the 2008 Republican National Convention, then charged with multiple felonies — including counts with “terrorism”-enhanced prison terms. The Ramsey County sheriff, in cahoots with the FBI and Homeland Security, decided to show local activists opposed to state repression just how repressive the state could be. Following much hyped SWAT team raids on private homes in Minneapolis and a prosecution that went on for more than two years, the case of the RNC 8 fizzled out last year.
The FBI continues to go after wannabe Muslim terrorists in this country, concocting plots that seem to cross the line into legal entrapment. It is highly debatable as to whether these tactics really make the citizenry safer.
Something has broken in America in the decade after 9/11.
We have become a more fearful place. Muslim Americans are viewed with suspicion. Our immigration system has become punitive; we are a long way from the nation that welcomed our grandparents fleeing persecution and pogroms in the early part of the last century.
The world stood with Americans in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; but we have expended the coin of global goodwill. The world has become a more unstable and dangerous place over the past 10 years. It is time for introspection, for a national cheshbon ha’nefesh, soul-searching, to regain our ideals, to become a nation that really stands for freedom and justice.
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