Column: Today, the world is in mourning

Rob Downen, Opinions Editor

So fitting that, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our president stands in front of Congress, pleading for war.

Few words can express the earth-shattering feelings of grief that swept this nation and the world on this day, 13 years ago. “Fear” or “anger” or “helplessness” or “sickness” give glimpses into the shattered psyche of a nation besieged, but no one word can truly capture that feeling of nakedness, of powerlessness. No one word can convey how it felt, with smoke still billowing across New York City, to know the world of old was dead, a new era begun.

Any person above the age of 21 can likely recount where they were on that day, will likely tell you how senseless it all felt, how angry we were, to see the newly-widowed and –orphaned sit stone-faced at memorials and tributes, too shell-shocked, too confused to really process the news.

Yet, on this day, 13 years ago, America wasn’t the only nation mourning. The world cried with us, sure, but even before 2001, September 11 was a day of solemnity across the world. 

We were just late to the party.

In Vietnam, September 11 marks the day the US 1st Cavalry Division arrived in Qui Nhon, the first full US Army division deployed to Vietnam, later a major player in the Tet Offensive.

In Chile, today has an even darker history. On this day, 41 years ago, CIA-backed rebels stormed the palace of democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Soon after taking control, the Nixon administration-approved General Augusto Pinochet initiated a 15-year rule of brutality and murder. Concentration camps were opened. Firing squads were established to quell dissent. 

Over the next decade, thousands of Chileans were slaughtered by the Pinochet regime, whose love for “disappearing” people often included air-dropping corpses into the Pacific or turning the countryside’s rich silver mines into makeshift cemeteries, all on America’s watch. Today, a generation of Pinochet’s “disappeared” still haunts Chile, their fates largely unknown. 

And then, Iraq: on this day 24 years ago, George H.W. Bush announced to America and the world his intent to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 

“If ever there was a time to put country before self and patriotism before party,” Bush said, “the time is now.”

“Recent events have surely proven that there is no substitute for American leadership,” he continued. “In the face of tyranny, let no one doubt American credibility and reliability. Let no one doubt our staying power.”

13 years later, his son would pick up that torch: “My fellow citizens, the danger to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.”

And so, here we are: 24 years and $2 trillion later; 5,000 American deaths later; 130,000 dead Iraqi civilians later, asking for more. The quench has not yet been satisfied. There are more bombs to be dropped, more villages to raze, more civilians to kill, more Earth to scorch. 

But the most unsettling thing about President Obama’s pseudo-declaration of war on the Islamic State last night wasn’t that it advocated war. 

It wasn’t his bold assertion that the sun never set on his Drone Empire (“a core principle of my presidency has always been that if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”)

The most unsettling thing was that it all felt so… normal. 

In the hours preceding the President’s speech, politicians from across the aisles grabbed every second to inject their opinions. No moment was spared, no buzzword went unuttered. 

“Bomb ‘em back to the stone age!” we jeered. “They don’t stand a chance!” 

“Let’s really take the offensive here! Hit ‘em where it hurts!”

The hours leading up to last night’s speech felt more like the precursor to NFL Sunday than a multi-front bombing campaign.

But who can blame us? When, for more than half a century, the only thing you’ve known is war, it’s no longer war—it’s a game. War: the gentlemen’s game, where the loser always dies, the winner never wins, the football is always atomic, and you’d rather send the neighbor’s kid to play than join in yourself.

When phrases like “shock and awe,” “collateral damage” and “civilian death count” are codified into the national vernacular, “small-scale” wars like this one seem minor annoyances, not worth real time or scrutiny. 

There are vile men in ISIS. Brutal; deserving of what’s to come.

But how long must we keep smiling through it all? How long must we continue this sick, perverted obsession with war? When will we realize that one can’t bomb their way to peace, can’t invade their way to democracy? When will we understand that one can’t be both the keepers of peace and the bringers of death?

Today is the day we remember the 3,000 people who died so cruelly on September 11, 2001. But if we really think about it, we’re not. 

War and blood do not honor the dead, they desecrate them. A million dead Iraqis does not bring back 3,000 dead Americans. 

This model is not sustainable. 

This morning, in a moment of silence for 9/11 victims, in honor of the thousands American soldiers, in honor of 140,000 dead Iraqis, I started listening—I really, truly listened. Far off in the distant, almost out of earshot, I heard something. 

It was the world, mourning.

It mourned with us. 

It mourned despite us.

Robert Downen is a senior political science and journalism major. He can be reached at 581-7912 or at [email protected]