Ralph Hitchcock: A different view on 9/11
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 has just passed. My evaluation of the events of 9/11 has been so far off the mainstream of the American opinion of the event that I am usually very careful about voicing my own opinion.
There are many reasons Americans may evaluate the 9/11 events to such an extreme level of historical importance, as if such a terrible thing has only happened to us:
— We are historically a very insular people living in a country 3,000 miles by 1,000 miles; we are separated from Europe and Asia by oceans; and we border only two nations, both friendly.
— We only emerged from our historic isolationism, including educational, after World War II.
— In contrast to most European and Asian nations, we have not been invaded since 1812.
— Many (most?) Americans are either oblivious to world events or oversimplify them.
— 9/11 was on TV instantly, followed by total coverage as no other tragedy had been, and it has been followed by 20 years of TV talking heads’ commentaries and interviews each Sept. 11.
While I was, like everyone, shocked and saddened by what happened, I have a problem giving 9/11 the same magnitude as most Americans do because of my historical perspective and world view.
All my years of living in the UK and then around the world among non-European peoples in poorer countries allowed me to learn about, be interested in and respect other cultures. This experience gave me a worldview unlike the more typical, somewhat insular American.
For me, this put the events of 9/11 in a different and much larger world context. As terrible as it was, I was not able to accord it such a comparatively high position among the many shocking human tragedies.
Here are some events also involving civilian casualties, for comparison with the 3,000 deaths and the destruction of the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon:
— The German Blitz of London. There were 1.2 million homes destroyed and about 50,000 civilians killed.
— The Nanking Massacre by the Japanese army. It is impossible to come up with accurate numbers, but various sources give 50,000 to 200,000 civilians killed by the Japanese soldiers.
— The Vietnam War. Estimates range from 500,000 to 1,200,000 civilians killed in Vietnam. This does not count the Cambodians killed by our bombing and invasion and the resulting murderous Pol Pot regime.
During the height of the Cold War, our government overthrew heads of state we deemed not anti-Soviet enough and installed our own puppets, many of whom were terrible despots, such as:
— In the Congo after Lumumba was killed, we installed Mobutu Sese Seko. Our agents and our military aid kept him in power for 30 years, during which time 1 million to 2 million people were killed.
— In Chile, Allende was the “socialist” president. We did not trust him, so a coup was arranged, Allende was killed, and we installed Pinochet, a good conservative who could be trusted. He killed 30,000 people. Thousands of them just disappeared, so their families had years of doubt about their existence, and to this day many families have no closure.
The foregoing has attempted to put the magnitude of the 3,000 World Trade Center and Pentagon victims and destruction of the buildings into perspective. For me, this approach of putting it into a world-wide historical context reduces the magnitude of the actual 9/11 events when compared to other tragedies suffered by peoples around the world.
Finally it should be noted that the results of our extreme insular reaction to 9/11, which caused our massive involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East with the resulting regional instability, has led to continuing civilian deaths and cultural destruction.
Ralph Hitchcock lives near Nevada City.
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