Words and context on 9/11

Dear President Trump,

This morning on the 17th anniversary of 9/11 I’ve been thinking about language and words and how differently we talk about the same objective behaviors depending on the message we want to send. For example, we might talk about a person flying an airplane and releasing bombs meant to kill people as a targeted airstrike or as a terrorist attack. We might talk about military actions as operations or as invasions. We will justify one or the other description based on whether the (intended) target was military or civilian and what we’ve been taught to believe about those targets and the military goals, but however they are described they involve killing and they wreak havoc.

Back in the early 2000’s the VA decided we had to shift our language so that we no longer talked about the new veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but instead called them OEF and OIF Veterans, referring to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, respectively. As obscuring and propaganda laden as these labels are, I was shocked to learn this morning that OEF replaced the phrase “Operation Infinite Justice.” Somebody must have realized that this one was so over the top that it would never fly. More recently we’ve added Operation New Dawn referencing another, later, offensive in Afghanistan. Lots of operations promising lots of freedom and new days, but it’s hard to tell what anyone has gotten from them other than enduring loss, heartache, and disability.

I looked up the casualty statistics from the First Gulf War to remind myself of some of the crucial context for the 9/11 attack and found that approximately 2,000 Kuwaiti people were killed or “disappeared” when Iraq invaded their country. During the approximately 6 months of that war over 20,000 Iraqi combatants were killed and an estimated 3,500 civilians were killed outright with another 100,000 estimated to have died from the war’s effects (all this is from Wikipedia). The US death toll was 146, including the 35 who were killed by “friendly fire” All told, 341 US and allied troops died in the First Gulf War.

I’m not saying that the 9/11 attacks on the US were justified. They were not. But they did occur in a context and you are continuing to fuel that context by vilifying Muslim people and people from the Middle East. It is a dangerous, sick thing to do and history will not look kindly upon you.

May we take care of everyone’s safety and thereby our own.
May we be willing to step up and work hard to create non-violent solutions.
May we keep ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies healthy.
May we reject divisive narratives and embrace peace.

Tracy Simpson

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