It was the end of period three, the last of three classes in a row before I had a break.
The teaching assistant assigned to some students in that class walked up to me at the front of the room where I was scrambling to collect papers so I could get out of the way for the next teacher coming in.
“Did you hear?”
“Hear what?” I asked.
“About the World Trade Center?”
I had been teaching since 7:30. In the days before smartphones with incessant notifications, I did not have contact with the outside world.
“Someone drove a truck full of bombs into the parking garage,” she said.
“Really?” Recalling someone had already tried that back in 1993, I added, “Again?”
“Yeah, I don’t know too much,” she said. “It just happened.”
Then she left and I ambled down the hall toward the English office.
The English department shared an office with math, and the lights were always on, illuminating the constant beehive of activity and conversation.
That day, though, the room was dark save for what the brilliant morning sun brought in, and the only sound was from a news reporter’s voice on a radio next to the two computer terminals.
“What’s going on?” I asked the colleague whose desk abutted mine.
“We’re not sure yet, but planes flew into the Twin Towers.”
I think it was during my lunch someone informed us the librarian had set up a TV in a back room off limits to students. I made my way there and finagled my lithe 27-year-old frame in between two other teachers as we all watched repeating footage of black smoke billowing from the World Trade Center’s north tower, and then United Airlines Flight 175 bank right into the south tower.
At first I, like many others, thought it must have been an accident.
One plane, sure.
Within the hour we had received some directions from the principal.
First, many of our students’ parents and relatives worked in the city; several students would be leaving periodically as guardians came to pick them up . The main office would provide a list for attendance purposes.
Second, we were prohibited from talking to students about it. If they had questions, we were to inform them the principal was going to make an announcement at the end of the day.
During that announcement, the principal erroneously stated the Washington, D.C. Mall was on fire.
Thankfully that wasn’t true.
But the Pentagon was still on fire, and a plane was down in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Weeks later, on October 7, 2001, U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Afghanistan, the second-poorest country in the world that had nothing to do with the World Trade Center attacks in an ostensible attempt to seek vengeance on Osama bin Laden.
Two years later, former president George W. Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to enact a re-election strategy of invading Iraq, another country that had no hand in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Five years after the attack my wife and I would marry.
Seven years after the attack our daughter was born.
One month shy of nine years after the attack our son was born.
All that time the United States was embroiled in two undeclared wars against countries that had nothing to do with Sept. 11, 2001.
Through work, the tribulations of home ownership, the stress of raising two small kids, I didn’t have much time to dedicate to geopolitical affairs.
Yet every so often a thought would creep into my head: Surely these conflicts would be over before my kids were 18, right?
The prospect of my children, not even vague concepts on 9/11/01, enlisting to fight in either of those illegal conflicts seemed highly unlikely.
The years ticked on, though.
Last year I started realizing the unlikelihood was not so unlikely.
Look at the ages of the 13 US service members killed in the attack at the Kabul airport trying to evacuate Afghans.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza was 20.
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee was 23.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover was 31.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss was 23.
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez was 22.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum was 20.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, also 20.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui 20 as well.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20.
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25.
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22.
Navy Hospital Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22.
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23.
They could have been my students.
In fact, the students I was teaching on September 11, 2001 are older than these soldiers.
Obama got us out of Iraq, but Afghanistan was still hot as ever–with no end in sight.
While the corporate media is obsessed with the incessant disaster porn over the chaotic Afghanistan evacuation, there are several important details we all must keep in perspective.
We spent 20 years in Afghanistan–longer than any other military conflict–because former president George W. Bush wanted to be a “war president,” thus securing the re-election his father, POTUS 41, failed to achieve after his “little war” in Iraq in 1991.
That all started in 1999 when Bush was still governor of Texas and flirting with a run for the White House.
“One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief…My father [former president George H.W. Bush] had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it…If I have a chance to invade…if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”
Then came September 11, 2001, after Bush ignored repeated intelligence warnings Osama bin Laden was intent on attacking the United States.
The Reagan/Bush Sr. administration spent $3 billion on bin Laden when he was our ally against the Soviet Union.
But it was our imperialism and perceived decadence that turned him against us and set the stage for 19 jihadist hijackers–15 of which were Saudis, like bin Ladin–to commit the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.
Bin Ladin did not participate in the attacks himself.
He was in Pakistan receiving medical treatment thanks to help from none other than the United States military.
But Bush couldn’t attack our ally Pakistan.
He had to do something lest he appear more illegitimate than he already was thanks to the United States Supreme Court installing him in office.
Neighboring Afghanistan was the second-poorest country in the world at the time.
Bin Ladin had run terrorist training camps there.
A war with no-bid defense contracts would certainly turn things around.
There was another issue to consider.
After 9/11 the Taliban offered to arrest Bin Laden and to turn him over to a neutral third country.
This would not achieve the lofty goal of becoming a “wartime president” with a “successful presidency,” however.
Invading Afghanistan was the path he chose.
Two years later the United States invaded Iraq, a country that also had no hand in the fateful attacks, and posed no existential threat to our nation’s sovereignty.
After being re-elected in 2004, Bush stood before the American people talking about earning some “political capital” he intended to use. That “political capital,” among other republican agenda items, was privatization of Social Security.
Thankfully that failed.
Fast forward through the Obama presidency, which carried out Osama bin Ladin’s assassination but continued the Afghanistan debacle for eight more years.
Donald Trump, another unpopular republican president, had been in office nearly four years and facing re-election.
Early in 2020, over the Afghan government’s opposition, Trump signed a deal with the Taliban that handed the terror network basically everything it asked for–power, legitimacy, and the release of 5,000 of its worst offenders—proclaiming:
”The relationship I have with the Mullah is very good.”
While President Biden heaped blame on the Afghan military for not living up to now-former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s promise “to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed,” he did not explain why the Afghan forces on which we spent two decades and over a trillion dollars laid down its arms as soon as American forces left.
That goes back to Trump again.
As the New York Times reported:
“When the Taliban started building momentum after the United States’ announcement of withdrawal, it only increased the belief that fighting in the security forces—fighting for President Ashraf Ghani’s government—wasn’t worth dying for. In interview after interview, soldiers and police officers described moments of despair and feelings of abandonment.
“The Taliban capitalized on the uncertainty caused by the [Trump] February 2020 agreement reached in Doha, Qatar, between the militant group and the United States calling for a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some Afghan forces realized they would soon no longer be able to count on American air power and other crucial battlefield support and grew receptive to the Taliban’s approaches.”
Could Joe Biden have cancelled the Trump-negotiated peace deal?
But as Biden said last month in his speech addressing the withdrawal:
“The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no cease-fire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, and lurching into the third decade of conflict.”
Albeit messy, Biden chose peace.
He ended the endless war President Bush recklessly committed us to 20 years ago, and Obama and Trump perpetuated.
Criticisms will abound.
But no longer will American servicemen and women be sent to die for Afghanistan’s decades-long failed internal conflict.
Let us now turn our compassion toward the refugees and let them embrace this country as their own.
My kids will never have to fight in or pay for either of Bush’s illegal conflicts.
Neither will yours.
Image credit: Wikipedia