Remembering the war discussions over the last decade reminded me of the few times I have heard or read someone noting the number of American war dead approaching, becoming equal to, and then exceeding the number killed on 9/11 - as if this was a marker for some sort of evenness, or completion, or a turning point.
I always feign that I have never heard of this counting before and asking, rather innocently, what they think is being balanced. Actually, sometimes just silence can make folks play back in their heads what they just said out loud, and re-evaluate whether it makes any sense. Most people do pick up that there really isn't anything sensible being measured in that equation, and sign off with something lame.
I don't think they necessarily meant any harm, but it is the kind of vague thinking that drives me nuts. There's a Bad Thing, and it has a number associated with it, like 3,000 deaths. Therefore, when something related to the Bad Thing is being discussed, and a number of deaths associated with that starts to get near 3,000, the mind automatically ties those two things together, as if some puzzle has been solved, or some stasis has been reached. It is likely one of those useful shortcuts the brain has developed in remembering things and understanding them.
No problem there. But why let the thought come out of your mouth?
I think the reasoning is something like this:
We have lost more people in war than we lost in the original attack on us, and also the many who have died in the crossfire in these countries. So, what does that say about the valuing of life and the reasons we went to war. War was supposed to prevent more deaths, not add to the death toll.
I also think it means to express the idea that we mourn the death of 4,000 who were killed by terrorists, but we don't mourn as strongly all those that have died since that in war. Though the numbers are the same we have vastly different reactions to those deaths.
In one case the loss of the innocent 4,000 WTC victims is devastatingly tragic. In the other case the loss is clothed in national pride and the 4,000+ are heroes who died in a noble cause.
Of course, soldiers know that death in combat is a possibility. Stock brokers and custodians in NYC simply went to work one day never knowing it would be the last thing they ever did.
The unexpected psychic pain of the loss at WTC and the way it impacted so many people and families in an immediate, painful way was much more real to us than the gradual, accumulating deaths of soldiers over years of fighting.
A price has been paid for 9/11, not only by terrorists, but by our own people. I think someone expressing this thought is simply saying haven't we paid enough yet?
I would say one more thing about this.
We are OK sacrificing the lives of our citizens n the altar of war. We feel justified. We are preventing some future greater tragedy. They gave everything for their country. It's a noble act. etc.
On the other hand,we are ashamed to think that our citizens might be sacrificed on the altar of peace.
The idea that our citizens might die because we chose not to go to war would be portrayed as a cowardly, despicable act....no matter whether the number of lives lost would be equal to or less than what we might lose in any given war.
Of course, there's no way to tell the outcome of doing something or not doing something when another party intends us harm.
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