Ten years ago today, my sister died at the World Trade Center. That day, the world changed – as did my life, and that of my family.
Every year since, on the anniversary of that day, my family and I debate whether to go to ground zero, whether to read the names of the deceased before the world’s news cameras.
My sister had taught English in China for two years, living in an unheated apartment in Beijing. She then studied international affairs, and believed in trying to make the world a better place. We wonder why terrorists killed her, and how we should best commemorate her.
For the first two anniversaries of her death, we went to the site of the attack. Then we stopped. It was too painful, opening up too many wounds. We have commemorated her in other ways — going to her the grave where we buried, in a baby coffin, the two bones that of hers that had been found. We revisited the house on Long Island where we all grew up.
Yet over the past eight years, we have avoided ground zero, too, because it had become a political event, with politicians making speeches to advance themselves, in ways we abhorred.
Many historians say that a handful of events have shaped the last 60 years – Hiroshima, Sputnik, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11 – a frightening and awesome list.
9/11 is the most recent of these, and the uses and misuses of that day continue to evolve, and its impact continues to emerge.
Of course, my family and I have gone on, adapted, made our lives different, as if acoping with a serious disease.
I am more concerned with how our nation has responded.
Shortly after the World Trade Center attack, we invaded Afghanistan. We stood united, Republicans and Democrats together, and had the world’s moral support.
But then, knowingly on the basis of fictitious reports, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, as his father had done. This war has cost tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. As a result, we diverted troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban reasserted itself. We then had to re-invade Aghanistan. These wars have lasted ten years —the longest in US history. (By comparison, the first and second World Wars each lasted four years.) We lost much of the world’s support.
In May, when US troops killed Osama Bin Laden, friends called my family and me and asked if we were now celebrating in the street. I was relieved, but I was not celebrating. I know that terrorism continues, and that we still needed to understand why – that there were lessons we perhaps still have not learned. Some still hate the US because we continued to support corrupt dictators like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and these outsiders saw us as greedy and imperialistic. In response to these thoughts, I wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, articulating these feelings.