Payette's Point: Eleven years later, not all Americans are safer
The aftermath of Sept. 11 weighs heavily on U.S. service members and their families
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Each Sept. 11, America takes time to remember the horrible tragedy that took place more than a decade ago. For most, the Sept. 11 attacks conjure up shocking images they witnessed on television. The catastrophe is characterized as a single day of terror, but its effects still ripple through the lives of many Americans today.
Consequences in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 expand far beyond body scanners and the inconvenience to passengers of removing their shoes at the airport. They are felt in the 6,500-plus service member families who have lost a loved one in Afghanistan or Iraq. They are felt in the 50,000-plus who have been wounded fighting those wars. They are felt in the countless more who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other disorders. They will continue to be felt by those and their families facing deployments to Afghanistan before the 2014 scheduled withdrawal. The aftermath of Sept. 11 is alive everyday and much more than an afterthought for those families.
I was reminded of this reality as a White House intern this summer with the veterans and military families outreach team. During Wounded Warrior tours, I saw a father chasing his two boys around the White House on two prosthetic legs. My eyes came across personal pictures of President Obama’s visits to see Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center. Each photograph tore at my heart and carried its own personal story. Many of the wounded veterans were the same age as my fellow interns and the students roaming the UNH campus. However, the stresses and inconveniences UNH students face each day are trivial to what our peers face halfway across the world in Afghanistan and in their return home.
Most of these veterans and their families were not in New York or Washington D.C. on the day of the attacks, but their sacrifices are a part of the Sept. 11 story. We must remember that Sept. 11 still serves as the major justification for going to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Most believe the wars were necessary to prevent another attack and save lives, which we have done on American soil. However, more than twice as many lives have been sacrificed trying to do so. It can be argued that the chosen policies haven’t prevented the loss of American lives, just transplanted the terrorist targets across the world. Eleven years after the attack, it is appropriate to examine if the thousands of American lives lost and trillions of dollars spent were necessary to prevent an attack that could quite frankly be launched out of a basement anywhere across is the world.
There is consensus that Americans are safer now than on Sept. 11, 2001. One year ago, I wrote a column questioning that notion. The answer to that question depends largely on who was classified as “we.” There is no doubt the general population is safer, but there is a small percentage of the population that is not. For the less than one percent of the American population who voluntarily defends America as a marine, airman, sailor, seaman, or soldier, the answer to the question is an emphatic “no.”
More than 300 more Americans have lost their lives and thousands more have been wounded since my aforementioned column a year ago. Even for those who survive their first, second or third deployment, the toll of war awaits them and their families. The aftermath of exposure to war has become one of the biggest challenges facing America and one that health experts are still trying to understand. Sadly, the casualty rate - one U.S. service member death per day - has been matched by the number of service members committing suicide. Equally unfortunate is the reality that most Americans are unaware of these figures, some of which can be attributed to the media. When a dozen civilians lose their lives from a deranged gunman, the media covers the incident incessantly for weeks. When a similar number of Americans are killed in Afghanistan, there is often no more than a 10-second sound bite in the evening news. As a nation, we must remember that no American life is more sacred than another and each loss is its own tragedy.
My point is a simple one. The lives of U.S. service members killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan share a connection with the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and those service members deserve the same type of remembrance on this day as those who perished on Sept. 11.
Brooks Payette is a UNH graduate student, Truman Scholar, and summer 2012 White House Intern.