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Published September 11 2011

Nelson: Sorrow over what we’ve lost

My wife woke me up a couple of hours early on Sept. 11, 2001. She said a couple of planes had flown into the World Trade towers; at least one had collapsed before my bleary eyes could take in the TV scenes. Soon estimates of the dead ranged above 5,000.

I expected Rod Serling’s voice-over to start at any time. Yet life went on that day: I was still expected to be at work, and there was the appointment to be kept to put new tires on my old van. A videotape order was incomplete. The enormity of the attack barely settled in that first day, but we Americans had seen nothing yet. 9/11 was the coup de grace to what was left of the America we knew.

Al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden were quickly assigned guilt, although the FBI never got enough evidence on bin Laden to charge him with 9/11 complicity. We justifiably swept into Afghanistan and at once mostly cleared al-Qaida out and overthrew the Taliban government. We then hastily packed our bags and left to war with Iraq, and the world changed.

Iraq and Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 nor did they have any weapons of mass destruction (as if the latter had any relevance anyway). By dint of lies and cherry-picked intelligence, the George W. Bush administration brought death and misery to millions of innocent people. Since then, the current and future cost of the wars – including round two of the Afghanistan war, in which we are only fighting indigenous Afghans this time – has run into the trillions of dollars. America has given up many of its hard-won liberties quite willingly in order to defend itself against a pathetic ragtag band half a world away.

Our communications are monitored, often illegally. We are rudely treated at the airport, border and even at places like the Mall of America. We have tortured and killed innocent men; please, no euphemisms here like “enhanced interrogation.” These are just the beginning. The secret intelligence establishment is now so huge no one knows how many people it employs, and its new array of buildings in Washington, D.C., is nearly as large as three Pentagons.

We’re in this jam because we rejected the Constitution and George Washington’s sage advice on not interfering in others’ disputes, and now we reap the whirlwind. Agree or not with them, the terrorists we capture all say pretty much the same thing: They fight us because we were meddling in their countries first.

9/11 is a day to bow our heads in sorrow for 3,000 murdered Americans, for 200,000 Iraqis killed because of our war, and for the America we lost that day – an America that managed to survive exponentially greater dangers, but not this one.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.