After more than 50 years of activism, politics and writing, Tom Hayden is a leading voice for ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and reforming politics through a more participatory democracy.
After witnessing the first jetliner crash into the Twin Towers on that Sept. 11 morning, the wife and 7-year-old daughter of a friend of mine fled to their nearby Manhattan loft and ran to the roof to look around. From there, they saw the second plane explode in a rolling ball of flaming fuel across the rooftops. It felt like the heat of a fiery furnace.
Not long after, the girl was struck with blindness. She rarely left her room. Her parents worked with therapists for months, trying various techniques, including touch and visualization, before the young girl finally recovered her sight.
"The interesting new development," my friend reports, "is that she no longer remembers very much, which she told me when I asked her if she would be willing to speak with you."
That's what happened to America itself 10 years ago this Sunday on 9/11, though it might be charged that many of us were blinded by privilege and hubris long before.
But 9/11 produced a spasm of blind rage arising from a pre-existing blindness as to the way much of the world sees us. That in turn led to the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Afghanistan again, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia--in all, a dozen "shadow wars," according to The New York Times. In Bob Woodward's crucial book, Obama's Wars, there were already secret and lethal counterterrorism operations active in more than 60 countries as of 2009.
From Pentagon think tanks came a new military doctrine of the "Long War," a counterinsurgency vision arising from the failed Phoenix program of the Vietnam era, projecting U.S. open combat and secret wars over a span of 50 to 80 years, or 20 future presidential terms. The taxpayer costs of this Long War, also shadowy, would be in the many trillions of dollars and paid for not from current budgets but by generations born after the 2000 election of George W. Bush. The deficit spending on the Long War would invisibly force the budgetary crisis now squeezing our states, cities and most Americans.
Besides the future being mortgaged in this way, civil liberties were thought to require a shrinking proper to a state of permanent and secretive war, and so the Patriot Act was promulgated. All this happened after 9/11 through democratic default and denial. Who knows what future might have followed if Al Gore, with a half-million popular-vote margin over Bush, had prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court instead of losing by the vote of a single justice?
In any event, only a single member of Congress, Barbara Lee of California, voted against Bush's initial Sept. 14 request for emergency powers (war authorization) to deal with the attacks, and only a single senator, Russ Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act.
Were we not blinded by what happened on 9/11? Are we still? Let's look at the numbers we almost never see.
Fog of War
As to American casualties, the figure now is beyond twice those who died in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., on 9/11. The casualties are rarely totaled, but they are broken down into three categories by the Pentagon and Congressional Research Service.
There is Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan but, in keeping with the Long War definition, also covers Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Second, there is Operation Iraqi Freedom and its successor, Operation New Dawn, the name adopted after September 2010 for the 47,000 U.S. advisers, trainers and counterterrorism units still in Iraq. The scope of these latter operations includes Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
These territories include not only Muslim majorities but also, according to former Centcom Commander Tommy Franks, 68 percent of the world's proven oil reserves and the passageway for 43 percent of petroleum exports, another American geo-interest that was heavily denied in official explanations. (See Michael Klare's Blood and Oil and Antonia Juhasz's The Bush Agenda for more on this.)
A combined 6,197 Americans were killed in these wars as of Aug. 16 in the name of avenging 9/11, a day when 2,996 Americans died. The total American wounded is 45,338 and rising at a rapid rate. The total number rushed by Medivac out of these violent zones was 56,432. That's a total of 107,996 Americans. And the active-duty military-suicide rate for the decade is at a record high of 2,276, not counting veterans or those who have tried unsuccessfully to take their own lives. In fact, the suicide rate for last year was greater than the American death toll in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has long played a numbers game with these body counts. Accurate information has always been painfully difficult to obtain, and there was a time when the Pentagon refused to count as Iraq war casualties any soldier who died from his or her wounds outside of Iraq's airspace. Similar controversies have surrounded examples such as soldiers killed in non-combat accidents.
The fog around Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties will be seen in the future as one of the great scandals of the era. Briefly, the United States and its allies in Baghdad and Kabul have relied on eyewitness, media or hospital numbers instead of the more common cluster-sampling interview techniques used in conflict zones like the first Gulf War, Kosovo or the Congo.
The United Nations has a conflict of interest as a party to the military conflict and acknowledged in a July 2009 U.N. human-rights report footnote that "there is a significant possibility that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is underreporting civilian casualties." In August, even the mainstream media derided a claim by the White House counterterrorism adviser that there hasn't been a single "collateral," or innocent, death during an entire year of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, a period in which 600 people were killed, all of them alleged militants.
As a specific explanation for the blindness, the Los Angeles Times reported on April 9 that "Special Forces account for a disproportionate share of civilian casualties caused by Western troops, military officials and human-rights groups say, though there are no precise figures because many of their missions are deemed secret."