Why I stayed home on September 11, 2011….
Because I couldn’t stand to see another American flag, to hear another story about our sacrifice, our heroism, our strength, to watch George Bush, the purveyor of so much death and destruction, given legitimacy one more time, to watch the thousands of news cameras and reporters seeking profundity in 30 second bites, to watch us, the USA, ignore over and over and over again, the brutal truth that September 11, a horrible, painful, unforgettable day, was used to unleash violence and death on a scale so enormous and ongoing, to make the towers’ demise seem almost small by comparison.
For those who lost loved ones on September 11, their grief will never be assuaged. They are forever bonded with millions of others around the world who suffer the enduring pain of war and violence.
But America never tells the story of the rest of the world. I realized this more clearly than ever before, after viewing the special magazine issues, the special TV reports, all with their focus on individual tales of resurrection, that there is no place in the USA today, except in the deepest margins, for another story to be told.
As I stayed home, away from downtown Manhattan, I considered all the veterans I have met who lost their limbs, their brains, their marriages, their future, who are still sick, poisoned, with little help and few answers, some who are in jail, or homeless, who were sent to attack/befriend (explain that configuration) a country that caused us no harm. Yet we were told again and again that Iraq was somehow responsible, that we were a target, that war was inevitable. Where are you now Judith Miller and company? Are you there at Ground Zero?
I think of the Iraqis, the millions in Syria and in Jordan, the thousands struggling in the USA dislocated forever. Where is their anniversary, where is their commemoration? I think of Salee Allawe who lost her brother and her legs to a US missile. Where is her day of mourning?
I think of the thousands of Muslims who were forced to line up at the federal building in NYC after September 11 to register, like Japanese Americans in World War 2. I remember the terror in the eyes of those on that line, the fear that once inside the building, they might never be let out. People did disappear. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn disappeared. I think of the Metropolitan Detention Center where detainees were held in the most horrible conditions, a preview of Guantanamo. I think of Guantanamo. I think of a man I met in Washington D.C. proudly wearing an orange golf shirt with Club Gitmo stitched above his heart, as though there is something funny about torture. I think of Abu Ghraib.
If only the USA was capable of discussing its own war crimes, of reviewing its own history, of realizing that our madness for global military dominance has destroyed and impoverished this nation and so many others, I would have joined the thousands at Ground Zero, cried for those who died, for a city violently attacked, but the corruption of that day, kept me away, and made me want to hide.
Instead, last night, I watched the towers of light, beautiful blue creations, not the blue of the American flag, a blue of a different hue, a gentle, elegant, poetic and astonishing image of life and beauty reaching far higher then the trade center towers ever reached. I thought of the creativity and artistic daring of Philippe Petit who tip toed across the towers in such a brazen act of ecstasy, and I cried while listening to Paul Simon , appearing so modest, quietly strumming an acoustic guitar to the Sounds of Silence.
©Photograph Nina Berman, 2011