Hard to ‘Never Forget’ When We Never Learned

It's hard to take the slogan "never forget" seriously when, as a country, we never learned the true lesson of 9/11 in the first place.

I know it probably makes you angry to read this. After all, it's a solemn occasion, and as an American, I have a duty to cast aside everything, wrap myself in an American flag and blindly remember the terrible day our nation experienced 10 years ago.

But it makes me angry we are so willfully ignorant of the reasons behind an event that not only claimed 3,000 innocent victims, but due to our "War on Terror" has cost the lives of over 6,000 of our service people, as well as caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Wait, I need to be more politically correct... not civilian deaths, "collateral damage."

To test the notion of our understanding of 9/11, turn to the person next to you and ask them why Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda waged war on the United States and our innocent civilians. If that person answers, "Because they hate our freedom," give them an American flag and pat them on the head.

Of course, this fundamental misunderstanding of the threat we continue to face, and the peril we put American troops in as a result of it, is the core of why the “War on Terror” is badly conceived and doomed to fail.

The worst part is, we don't even have to make up what was on bin Laden's now water-logged mind - he told us! al-Qaeda explicitly cited three motives for its activities against Western countries: the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, U.S. support of Israel and sanctions against Iraq.

So, what was our response? To attack, invade and occupy two sovereign Middle Eastern countries in wars that are closing in on their own 10-year anniversaries. The effect was predictable: angering locals in those countries and driving up anti-American sentiment, and ultimately creating a new generation of potential terrorists that hate America. Seems like a silly way to keep us safe.

Ultimately, President George W. Bush's “War on Terror,” continued in earnest, and in some cases double-downed on by President Obama, compromised America's basic principles, undermined our economy and weakened its security.

I haven’t even gotten to the cost. America's military spending still nearly equals that of the rest of the world combined, two decades after the end of the Cold War. In addition to the $1.415 trillion price tag of all our wars of choice, there’s the social cost as well to our troops and our society. Due to the fact that 50 percent of returning troops are eligible to receive some level of disability payment, and more than 600,000 have been treated so far in veterans' medical facilities. Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University estimates that future disability payments and health care costs will total $600 billion to $900 billion alone.

The cost is even higher for the families and relatives of casualties of war you don’t often hear about – veterans who choose to take their own lives, unable to cope with the post-traumatic stress of multiple deployments and family break-ups. In fact, veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than civilians who have never had to experience war.

So, on this anniversary of the largest attack on the continental U.S. since the War of 1812, remember those innocent victims that needlessly died at the hand of evil, cowardly terrorists. But also remember the hundreds of thousand innocent civilians whose only crime was where they were born. Remember the 6,000-plus American servicemen who have died helping to grow the next generation of terrorists in the Middle East, at a cost that threatens to bankrupt us as a nation.

Also, remember the businessman who now needs to strip down and enjoy a cavity search by a wonderful TSA agent. Remember the firefighter who responded on 9/11 and saved lives, only to continuously have his healthcare coverage denied. Remember the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President who thought that two wars weren’t enough, and started a third in a country that possessed no strategic threat to us.

In fact, do more than just remember them all. Never forget them. Maybe next time we can think before we act.

Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a contributor to WHYY. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .