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9/11 -- Lessons Only Partially Learned

Ten years on, there are likely just as many questions as there were when the twin towers fell. Our world doesn't feel safer, and turbulent events, both good and bad, have filled the new millennium. But as we commemorate the fallen of 9/11, there are three questions for which we at least have some partial answers.

First, it's important to know what we remember. The very thought of some 300 firefighters climbing up the tower floors to their deaths is one of the enduring memories of that fateful day. When the sun had set, we learned that close to 3,000 people had perished. But that's not the whole story -- not even the majority of it. The most conservative estimates remind us that some 300,000 innocents died violently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 300 firefighters; 3000 civilians; 300,000 Iraqis, Afghans and coalition soldiers -- the numbers tell an advancing story.

But what of the Iraqi mother we read of in the news that had a son blown up by a errant western bomb? Or the father in Afghanistan who helped the coalition forces construct a school only to have his wife killed by the Taliban as a consequence? It doesn't minimize the sadness we feel, but it does place it in perspective.

So let's be clear on what we are remembering here. A barbaric act that eventually resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. From the dead Canadian trooper in Kandahar to the grieving widow in Tikrit, we have learned the of history's shadow side.

It is important to confirm why we remember. In the ancient Hebrew texts, the Koran, and the Bible, we read of God calling on people to put an end to poverty, injustice and oppression. But corrupt governments in developing countries and distracted citizens in the affluent West never took that charge seriously. In poverty resides anger; in destitution there is hopelessness; and in oppression there can be the tendency to let go of human decency and grasp at ideological solutions.

But this global angst is no longer confined to terrorist terrain. Many have been delighted at the democratic impulse of the Arab Spring, but have been more surprised at the demonstrations in London, England and even Tel Aviv, as constrained citizens watching their life's savings filter away, rail against economic inequities. This is what happens when those who govern, either in the political or corporate sector, seek their own embellishment over those they are supposed to serve.

There are presently two billion people living in this world on less than $2 a day and they are increasingly anxious for justice. What else would we expect? We seek to remember on this special day because the root problem has not been solved and there is much to do.

Which brings us to how we remember. We allowed ourselves to cut foreign aid repeatedly, go soft on international development, leave women spread around the world lost in injustice and powerlessness, adopt trading practices that impoverished nations at the same time as it spoiled us. We got our free trade while others received only impoverishment.

Much of this took place after the debacle of 9/11. It's almost as if we've learned nothing. Our lives will remain insecure as long as permit injustice in this world. We can blame corrupt governments all we want, but if our buying and trade patterns have elevated the despots then our hands are dirty as well.

While others put their anemic trust in cruise missiles or advanced fighter aircraft, dedicated humanitarians are taking freedom, justice and economic empowerment to those very places where terrorism can flourish and they drive a stake through the terrorism's heart by their sheer compelling dedication to a better world. They are the complement to our men and women in uniform, only they fight with school books, medicines, women's advocacy efforts, research acumen, and the great compulsion for human rights. Like the firefighters in the towers, they go forward while others retreat because they have learned the lesson that the best way to remember is to defeat injustice at its source.

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