September 11th. Every year the same feelings return.
All around are the clear signs of what it is I should be feeling, but for me it is never that simple. For me it is always a disturbing mix of conflicting emotions.
It's part flashback. The surreal movie-like scenes. Me sitting at my desk as the second tower collapses. The falling shapes. The dust-covered workers. The candlelight vigils.
And part reflection. Not only on the specific act and its consequences, not only on the lost lives and terrible suffering, but on the greater issues surrounding that day and the days after it. What is to be the legacy of 9/11? And what is the point of continuing to mark this event if we will not take the time to learn from it?
These questions are the sort that get in the way of that unquestionable sentiment I know I should be feeling. The guilt creeps in as the speeches and memorials begin to fall on my deaf ears and the questions come to the forefront instead. But I can't help it.
Is it our responsibility only to remember? To give only a moment of silence and play back the video footage? How do we truly honor the dead?
In an unfortunate coincidence (or convenient bit of political timing) last night, on the eve of 9/11, President Obama addressed the world regarding the looming threat of ISIS (Islamic State) and laid out America's plan to arm Syrian rebels and engage and destroy this group of extremists.
With somebody else in charge my level of concern would be much greater, but Obama seems to understand that direct military involvement is a last option. He is, as far as American presidents go, thoughtful in the subtleties of international relations and its consequences.
And it is just that subject that I feel is not addressed enough, especially on days like today. Consequences.
The current ISIS situation, and the need to stop their ultra-violent rampage through Iraq and Syria, appears to have unanimous support. Even Middle Eastern nations normally reluctant to side with the U.S. are publicly saying the group must be stopped.
I'm not blind to the reality that this group of extremists are performing a sort of religious ethnic cleansing, murdering indiscriminately anyone that does not fit into their warped beliefs. But what bothers me is the surrounding conversations or lack thereof. It's too open and shut. ISIS is bad. Something must be done. We are going to do something about it.
Not a word of how we got here. Not a moment to contemplate how the next step might create the next open and shut situation. No thought given to consequences, before or after.
For we did not arrive here spontaneously. Same as with 9/11. Actually the event we mourn today is directly related to the violence President Obama prepared us for last night. The attacks on September 11, 2001 led to the invasion of Iraq which led to the crumbling of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led government in a Shiite-dominated country, which led to years of sectarian violence and now to the rise and terror of Sunni ISIS.
Yes there is a black and white reason to act against this threat. But if all you see is the thing in front of you then you are sure to bang your head against some other version of it sometime in the near future.
History is full of shortsightedness and ignoring consequences even as they are coming back to bite you. The U.S., in a 1980s Cold War attempt to defeat the Soviet Union, decided to arm rebels in Afghanistan who were standing up to the Russians. One of the leaders was Osama bin-Laden. And his American-backed success in Afghanistan helped him up the jihadi ladder and towards 9/11.
There must always be other considerations. For today's valid reason often only exists because of the collateral effects of a previous intervention that itself had its own valid reasons. And those supposedly supportive reasons were themselves probably built on circumstances artificially created by some other well-intentioned interference...and so on, and so on.
It's a self-sustaining cycle. Our micro, present-day views and decisions have macro, long-term consequences, and these long-term consequences often dictate the present-day issues and valid reasons we think we are specifically dealing with.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
"Never forget" sounds nice, but saying it lightly does a great disservice. Many regretful events led to the horror of September 11th and many more continue to happen as a consequence of it. To ignore this and go forward without learning a lesson from the price those people paid is a shame.
This piece originally appeared on HeadSpace
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