Nine years and eight months ago, a terrorist plot to attack iconic locations in New York City and Washington D.C. succeeded. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in four plane crashes, two building collapses and one structural collision. Were it not for the efforts of responders, many more could have died: over 17,000 people were estimated to be inside the World Trade Center at the time of the collisions.
These attacks were masterminded by a Saudi man named Usāmah bin Lādin, a former Mujahideen in Afghanistan, who received training from the CIA to fight against the Soviets. bin Lādin began to organize terrorist attacks against US and Western targets because of several US policies:
- Support and funding supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine: According to a 2003 report, the US has contributed nearly 3 trillion USD towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This struggle began with the 1947 UN Resolution 181 which lead to the Arab-Israeli war and the expulsion of 725,000 native Palestinians from their homes. Since then, Israeli has occupied lands beyond the 1967 Six Day War borders (which were actually defined by the 1949 Armistice. Nearly 25,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed and countless have been killed in the conflict between each group. Israel was recently accused of war crimes by the Goldstone Report, which was received extremely unfavorably by the Obama Administration and Israeli Knesset. Two years ago, Operation Cast Lead killed about 1,400 and left 5,000 dead in the embargoed Palestinian territory.
- Support of the Israeli war against Lebanon: 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon led to a strong Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) presence in southern Lebanon, bordering on Israel. Lebanese Christian militias were trained to fight against PLO members and following shelling by the PLO against northern Israel, 300 were killed and 800 were wounded by an Israeli attack on Beirut. Further antagonisms led to the break out of war in which 28,000 were killed and many civilians were slaughtered in mass killings by Lebanese Phalangists supported by the Israeli Defense Forces.
- US support of the Russian war in Chechnya: between 25,000 and 200,000 civilians died during the second Chechen war.
- Indian policy towards Kashmir Muslims: According to a report, there have been 93,274 Kashmiri deaths from 1989 to June 30, 2010.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the US commenced Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and Operation Iraqi Freedom March 20, 2003. These wars, undeniably associated with the terrorist attacks (used by the administration to justify invasion and occupation), have surpassed Vietnam as the longest single military conflict of the United States. In addition, they have resulted in
- An innumerable number of Iraqi civilian casualties: two studies place the number of dead somewhere above 600,000.
- 14,000-34,000 Afghanistan casualties.
- ~88,000 combat and other casualties.
- Over 1.18 trillion USD was spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan via various defense and discretionary budgets.
To amalgamate and editorialize the above information, ~712,000 people died and vast amounts of wealth was exhausted with the premise of killing a man who orchestrated a terrorist attack killing 3,000, in response to decades of opportunist and malicious foreign policy. As nature abhors a vacuum, so did the geopolitical arena of unipolar international relations. With the demise of the USSR, the US was left without a boogyman for nearly a decade. After September 11, bin Lādin offered a convenient motive to continue the grotesque and exorbitant defense spending to which the military-industrial-complex has become accustomed.
The global war on terrorism is the Vietnam of our generation, defining the lives of people who grew up with the collapse of the twin towers being our Zapruder film, the most poignant media artifact of our time. But ignorance and apathy has removed much of the possibility of learning lessons from the GWOT, and using these terrible events to spur positive social change. Instead, we are left with abuse of state secrets, open acknowledgement of wrongful detention and torture (and a steadfast refusal to correct the record), a hypocritical government which advocates transparency while persecuting information activism and whistleblowers, and more petty politics than ever before. So while some will inevitably this small “victory,” it would behoove us to examine the costs which brought us to this place.