In the Wake of 9/11,
On the Cusp of Florence
September 1, 2001 is one of those days that people remember the way an earlier generation remembered Pearl Harbor and another generation remembers the Kennedy Assassination. The shock of losing a life, or thousands of lives, in an unexpected and horrific manner sears such a memory in people’s minds. The attacks on 9/11 took the lives of 2,996 people (2,606 in the Twin Towers, 125 at the Pentagon, 265 on the planes) and yesterday’s memorial services across the country paid tribute to those losses. What seems to have been missed amid our reverence for those souls is the longer-term consequences of the 9/11 attacks. 17 years later we are still in Afghanistan, embroiled in a war that seems to have no clear mission statement or exit strategy. There have been 2,372 American military deaths in Afghanistan (1,856 from “hostile action” & the rest from “friendly fire,” accidents, etc.) as well as 1,720 U.S. civilian “contractors” (mercenaries) --- for a total of 4,092 dead. This, of course, does not even account for the 4,424 deaths in an Iraq War that was foisted on the U.S. public under false pretenses (WMD’s) and still is, in the minds of many, incorrectly conflated with the 9/11 attacks. That means over 8,500 American lives have been lost since those September 11th attacks --- without including all those wounded (over 50,000 in Iraq/Afghanistan) who need Veterans Administration care. The question, at this point, needs to be: why? And where is the leadership? Why is there NO debate/discussion in Congress about this?
We are now in our third presidential administration overseeing the war in Afghanistan and there seems to be no clear explanation of why we are there, what our mission statement is, or what our exit strategy might be. We initially went into Afghanistan to root out Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden is dead and the Taliban (who are allied with Al-Qaeda) seem to be back in control of most of Afghanistan (as it was on 9/11/2001). We currently have at least 8,400 American troops (out of a NATO force around 13,000) in Afghanistan. But, again, what is the mission? We know the Afghan government is corrupt, authoritarian, and tenuous. The original Bush Doctrine notion of “democratizing” the Region has clearly failed. While Obama removed troops from Iraq, the Afghanistan “offensive” was maintained --- to what end? And now we have Trump, who seems to have no clear idea what’s going on, much less where Afghanistan is on a map!
And that brings us to a more local disaster: Hurricane Florence. Shockingly, Donald Trump claimed that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an “unsung success.” What we know, however, as a result of a George Washington University Institute of Public Health study (August 29, 2018) is that there were 2,975 deaths as a result of Maria. Unsung success? That is a death toll strikingly similar to the 9/11 total. Yet this President believes his Administration’s response was an “unsung success!” So, as the Southeast U.S. coast faces a hurricane threat worse than what we saw in Maria or Harvey (remember Houston?) last year, do we honestly believe that FEMA (which shifted $9.8 million of its money to ICE, to separate families, apparently) is really prepared to meet this crisis?
The hope is that locals along the Carolina Coast will heed the warnings to evacuate and prepare for record storm surges, 83-foot waves, 160 mile per hour wind gusts, and 40 inches of rainfall. We can only hope the forecasting models are wrong, somehow, but it seems unlikely --- this is not a “maybe” situation, this storm is going to hit and it’s really only a matter of where (exactly) and when (precisely). We know that roads will be closed, power will be cut off, floods will shock us, and video of submerged cars, trees ripped out by their roots, and boats tossed ashore like toys will fill our screens over the next few days.
So, as we commemorate a horrific attack and loss of life we brace ourselves hoping that we will not see a comparable loss of life over the next few days as a natural disaster slowly approaches, like a horror movie monster we can see but the potential victims may choose to ignore. Let’s hope not. The disaster in Puerto Rico did not result in an outcry to improve our readiness for these storms. Rush Limbaugh is screeching that the “panic” over these storms is simply a left-wing conspiracy to increase belief in climate change, once again ignoring science, facts, and basic reality --- not unlike the delusional Chief Executive who believes the handling of Puerto Rico’s crisis was an “unsung success.” We can only hope that local authorities and common sense prevail over the next few days and Florence’s toll is kept to a minimum.