As another anniversary of the mass slaughter on September 11, 2001 comes to pass, the shrill cries of nationalism, coupled with the genuine and disingenuous sympathy for the victims, make their way into the national discussion once again, even if the volume is slightly less amplified with each passing year. All of the official quarters pay their respects to the horrific happenings of that day eight years ago —as they should. Last Friday, the College Republicans and College Democrats held a vigil on Bascom Hill during which they planted American flags and sang the National Anthem. Undoubtedly, these same groups held near identical gatherings on universities throughout the country. This kind of thing is to be expected—it's simply the thing to do.
But if remembering the victims of the 9/11 attacks is a necessity, drenching such ceremonies in nationalistic sentiment must be the worst way of carrying them out. Leaving aside the role that American foreign policy played in those dastardly events for a moment, one must ask: What the hell does the national anthem have to do with mourning for the victims?
The people on the airplanes, in the twin towers and in the Pentagon were killed—just as anyone else dies at the hands of psychotic killers. What is important is the tragic loss of life, not the country in which they died. It should not matter that the victims were Americans, but that—contrary to Ward Churchill's ravings—they were innocent human beings. Would we think less of the victims if they weren't born in the United States?
Let's consider that question. Undeniably, the 9/11 attacks were a product of American policy in the Middle East. They were related to our interest in oil, our support for the Israeli occupation, our support for corrupt monarchs and dictators, our military presence in Saudi Arabia. No one really denies this anymore. The terrorists, homicidal maniacs though they are, could care less about the First Amendment or the fashion sense of Western women. They, along with the terrorist network of which they were a part, were an extremist religious response to a specific mode of national behavior. In this sense, the 3,000 dead on 9/11/2001 were products of American foreign policy.
Let's consider another example of the deadly impact of American foreign policy, only this time the victims won't be Americans. On a different 9/11, one that took place in 1973, Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup that installed Augusto Pinochet as military dictator for almost the next two decades. Bunkered in the Presidential Palace, protected only by his bodyguards and closest supporters, the military bombed the capital and quickly took control of the government. Allende allegedly comitted suicide, and was left for dead; 2,700 political opponents were killed; 200,000 dissidents fled the country; countless others were imprisoned and tortured.
Allende, leader of the Socialist Party, instituted a number of progressive reforms that increased the power of Chilean workers and strengthened the social safety net, much to the chagrin of American capital. According to then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, ""I don't see why we need to stand idly by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."" The U.S. flooded the right-wing opposition with money and resources, destabilizing the country and eventually leading to the coup. Once installed, Pinochet was quick to radically transform the country to favor the US-backed neoliberal model, one that decimated the economic life of the Chilean working class, particularly the most destitute among them. Milton Friedman became a favorite guest of the government.
For Chileans, ""9/11"" has a very different meaning, even if the suffering it denotes is the product of the same country's foreign policy. This is a type of policy which has led to countless other civilian deaths: Those murdered by the Shah following the U.S.-financed coup in Iran in 1953, the millions incinerated by American bombs in Indochina, the victims of the American-financed death squads in Central America in the 1980's and the countless killed, maimed, displaced and otherwise suffering people of Iraq and Afghanistan today.
Given the deleterious impact America has had on the world, it was somewhat surprising that the overwhelming international sentiment after the 9/11 attacks was one of sympathy for the victims. Non-Westerners, because of their experiences with imperialism, have the capacity to distinguish between the people of a country and their governments. At the same time, this sympathy ran parallel with an annoyance at the expectation of unbridled mourning: what about the suffering of others? As Noam Chomsky said, the feeling of most non-Westerners toward the 9/11 attacks could be summed up as: ""Welcome to the club.""
So, if we are to invoke that artificial, crude category—national identity—in remembering the victims, it might make sense for us to at least slightly reflect, even if just in a general way, on the other victims of American military might. Or, if we are going to be exclusive in who is worthy of remembrance, let's leave the flags and jingoism out of it, lest we allow the 9/11 victims to be used as propaganda for yet another imperialist adventure in some poor country.
Kyle Szarzynski is a senior majoring in history and philosophy. Please send responses to email@example.com.