GUEST COMMENTARY: Collateral damage from 9/11 includes unresolved feelings

Sunday, September 11, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:43 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 11, 2011

It is impossible not to know that today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, given the extent of media coverage. But it is very possible not to know quite how to feel about it.

Rather than shy away from the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to feel when many seem quite sure, I hope that some of us won't — that instead we'll take the opportunity this anniversary presents to think a little about what we feel.

Ten years ago, I was still in graduate school and living in Manhattan. The morning of Sept. 11,  I rode the train to the college in the Bronx where I was teaching.

Since I was early to my meeting, I bought a sugary coffee at the Dominican bodega on the way from the subway to campus and sat on a bench to drink it.

It was, as has been noted over and over again, an unusually clear day, with beautiful deep blue skies.

When I think back to that day, I remember the skies first. Then I remember the confusion, the failed attempts to call my sister in New Jersey, whose husband Andy worked in the upper floors of the north tower, the long and difficult trip back into Midtown, the armored vehicles and soldiers standing in the middle of the street when we emerged above ground, the hours spent running from hospital to hospital downtown, trying to find my brother-in-law, or a list of survivors, or anything.

I remember the time my wife and I spent in the days that followed waiting in line outside the armory to register Andy as missing, waiting — for what? — at the support center his firm set up in a hotel on the Upper East Side, walking my dog through the impromptu shrine that Union Square became.

I remember watching the video of the towers crumbling a couple of miles south of my apartment and turning my head to see the smoke from the towers out of our window, the smoke whose inescapable smell lingered longer than seemed possible.

It is important for people to remember this moment. It is important for my wife and me to feel sad, to call my sister, to talk to our boys about their uncle and how he died.

But sad isn't the only thing I feel. Today will be marked by many communities and families and individuals, and in the midst of these remembrances, many besides me will feel things that won't necessarily fit with the official national mood of triumphalist patriotism.

They may feel a sadness that is not about the almost 3,000 victims of the attacks but about the nearly 6,000 American soldiers killed in the past 10 years or about the uncounted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed since March 2003.

They may feel confused about how all this could have happened — how over a trillion dollars has been spent on war, how we could have so quickly turned international support into condemnation, how we could have so quickly abandoned our commitment to some kind of just conduct of war and to civil liberties, how we could have become a nationalist caricature of our patriotic better selves.

They may feel angry about the killing done in their name, under false pretenses. They may feel outrage at the quashing of dissent and the use of torture.

They may feel despair as, 10 years later, we seem still not to have learned any lessons from the event —  about the history of U.S. conduct in the region these men were from that led to their inexcusable but not inexplicable actions, about how wrong our response has gone, about how much the bill for all of this is going to come to.

I will be sad today. I will be sad about Andy and my sister and her children's loss of their father, and I will be sad about the American, Afghan and Iraqi lives destroyed.

I will be angry about the jingoistic mood that has overtaken the country. But I will also be hopeful.

It is my hope that the many others who feel the same things that I do are talking about them with friends and family whose feelings about 9/11 aren't as complicated as theirs.

While I don't want these conversations to ruin any late summer cookouts, they're important to have. We need to be able to talk about these things, to have complicated feelings about them and to occasionally antagonize our brother-in-law.

I wish mine were still around to have a good political argument with under a bright blue September sky. I want to honor him by being true to my feelings.

I hope that others who want to honor the memory of that day will do the same.

Samuel Cohen is an associate professor and the director of graduate studies in the English department at MU.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


James Terry September 12, 2011 | 11:52 a.m.


(Report Comment)
frank christian September 12, 2011 | 9:38 p.m.

I am sad for those killed in this war as well. And, I am tired of reading the accusatory rhetoric that seems to have become necessary for some to discuss it, as with the writer above.

Does anyone wonder how the vivid description of the loss of a loved one can thus be followed by the damnation, ("killing done in their name, under false pretenses. They may feel outrage at the quashing of dissent and the use of torture.") of the action taken to try to insure that it will never happen here again? Triumphalist patriotism? Should not some thanks be given that so far it has not happened again? Is there one who Knows that if we lay down our arms and "change our conduct in the region these men were from" we will be safe? Are there any whom do not know what will happen if that one is wrong? Mr. Cohen wrote an eloquent tribute to our losses on 9/11, but, In my opinion, tainted it with the usual "anti-war" rhetoric. Sorry.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 13, 2011 | 8:00 a.m.

There is some taint here,
But not the anti-war sort.
Taints belittle peace.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 13, 2011 | 5:54 p.m.

This drivel has appeared over and over again so many times, I don't know how this piece made it to publication. I am sorry about Mr Cohen's and his family's personal loss. It does bring in some emotion with a first person account, but there isn't a single thought contained herein that hasn't been expressed over and over again elsewhere. The "answer" is always the same. If we wanted to solve the worlds problems we need not ask liberal arts professors, we can just ask the kindergarten class at the local grade school. The answers will be the same. Be nice to the bad people because they are only bad because we did something bad to them to make them bad. Once you sit down with the bad people and give them some food or one of your toys to play with, they will see that you are a nice person and they will undergo a tranformation from bad people to loving, caring, educated, peaceful people. You want to talk about lessons that have not been learned...
Historians have concluded that Stalin killed 20 million of his own people.
Even on a proportional basis, his crimes far surpass Mr. Hussein's, but figures of a million dead Iraqis, in war and through terror, may not be far from the mark, in a country of 22 million people.

Where the comparison seems closest is in the regime's mercilessly sadistic character. Iraq had its gulag of prisons, dungeons and torture chambers. It had its overlapping secret-police agencies.

"Enemies of the state" were eliminated, and their spouses, adult children and even cousins are often tortured and killed along with them.

Mr. Hussein even used Stalinist maxims, including what an Iraqi defector identified as one of the dictator's favorites: "If there is a person, then there is a problem. If there is no person, then there is no problem."

There are rituals to make the end as terrible as possible, not only for the victims but for those who survive. After seizing power in July 1979, Mr. Hussein handed weapons to surviving members of the ruling elite, then joined them in personally executing 22 comrades who had dared to oppose his ascent.

The terror is self-compounding, with the state's power reinforced by stories that relatives of the victims pale to tell — of fingernail-extracting, eye-gouging, genital-shocking and bucket-drowning. Secret police rape prisoners' wives and daughters to force confessions and denunciations. There are assassinations, in Iraq and abroad, and, ultimately, the gallows, the firing squads and the pistol shots to the head.


(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 13, 2011 | 5:56 p.m.


DOING the arithmetic is an imprecise venture. The largest number of deaths attributable to Mr. Hussein's regime resulted from the war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988, which was launched by Mr. Hussein. Iraq says its own toll was 500,000, and Iran's reckoning ranges upward of 300,000. Accounts collected by Western human rights groups from Iraqi émigrés and defectors have suggested that the number of those who have "disappeared" into the hands of the secret police, never to be heard from again, could be 200,000.
Iraq's horrors have been demonstrated by campaigns bearing the special hallmark of Mr. Hussein. In 1999, a complaint about prison overcrowding led to an instruction from the Iraqi leader for a "prison cleansing" drive. This resulted, according to human rights groups, in hundreds, and possibly thousands, of executions.

Using a satanic arithmetic, prison governors worked out how many prisoners would have to be hanged to bring the numbers down to stipulated levels, even taking into account the time remaining in the inmates' sentences. As 20 and 30 prisoners at a time were executed at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, warders trailed through cities like Baghdad, "selling" exemption from execution to shocked families, according to people in Iraq who said they had spoken to relatives of those involved. Bribes of money, furniture, cars and even property titles brought only temporary stays.

But remember kids... These were peaceful loving people 'till the bad guys in US uniforms showed up and "tainted" their peaceful ways... They knew nothing of war (800,000 arabs killed fighting over power and religion amongst themselves...), torture, and evil ways before we showed them how to do it. I wonder how "Jingoistic" our foreign policy was to the European Countries we liberated in WW II or to the Kuwaiti's that were being robbed, raped and pillaged by Iraqi's before we saved them.
I do remember being at peace as a kindergartner, but I suppose the peace I felt was due to naivety and ignorance and not out of any rational enlightenment about the ways of the world. Maybe, just maybe, you suffer from the same naivety and ignorance...
I am hopeful right now because the most powerful country on earth is also the country that gives out more aid than any other country. The most powerful country is interested in stable governments and peace on earth and not imperialism. The most powerful country allows its people to put forth ideas even when those ideas are preposterous. Most of all, I am proud and hopeful because this most powerful country will still be the most powerful country even if a few overly apologetic, naive liberals leave to live on a commune in Syria or Iraq or Lebanon or North Korea, or Chechnya, or Myanmar or Pakistan or Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka or about the entire continent of Africa, or some other place nice like these...

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 13, 2011 | 6:31 p.m.

I love it when people point to the liberation of Europe in WWII as an example of why today's military industrial complex is a benevolent engine of global altruism...

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 13, 2011 | 7:11 p.m.

Louis S. - "I love it when people point to the liberation of Europe in WWII as an example of why today's military industrial complex is a benevolent engine of global altruism"

So do I. Care to give we ignorant, patriotic, Americans a dose of the information that you are privy to, but not available to us?

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 13, 2011 | 7:21 p.m.

Magician's call it
Misdirection. Deceiving
Folks to look away.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 13, 2011 | 7:26 p.m.

Nine Eleven was
Nineteen airplane hijackers.
Not one from Iraq.

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 13, 2011 | 8:12 p.m.

Gregg Bush - "Nine Eleven was
Nineteen airplane hijackers.
Not one from Iraq."

So what? Can you ever finish a thought?

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 13, 2011 | 8:49 p.m.

Who orchestrated the events that brought Saddam Hussein to power? Who was it that funded Osama Bin Laden?

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 13, 2011 | 8:56 p.m.

typical liberal, all questions, NO answers!

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson September 13, 2011 | 9:50 p.m.

Few other institutions on the planet are as much a "benevolent engine of global altruism" as the US military.

I recall a columnist opining almost two years ago, that the USMC was more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than that year's particular winner. A good point, I thought.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.