Memory of victim and a visit to lower Manhattan prompts reflections on attacks
The name of Noel John Foster, a Moravian College graduate and my former student, who was killed in the terrorist attack in New York City on 9/11, appears on the memorial at ground zero. Noel worked on the 99th floor of 2 World Trade Center (the south tower), and when the occupants began rushing to exit the building, he remained behind to aid others, including a friend with a broken leg attempting to descend the stairs. Witnesses reported seeing Noel on the 65th floor and finally on the 40th floor, still attending to the injured man. When the building collapsed, Noel paid the price for his heroic humanity.
As I explored the memorial site. I was also prompted to wonder whether it's now possible for Americans to simultaneously grapple with two basic truths. The first, of course, is that the 9/11 attack was an unconscionable crime against humanity. The second, and more difficult, requires responding to the question posed by the ate historian Howard Zinn: "In what ways has American foreign policy inflamed and antagonized people all over the world to the point of creating terrorists?" I suspect that Martin Luther King would not have been surprised by what occurred on Sept. 11. King solemnly warned of the virtually certain consequences, what's now termed "blowback," including the physical and mental toll on U.S. troops tasked with brutally maintaining an American empire. In 2014, we know that young veterans' suicides spiked 44 percent from 2009 to 2011 and currently 22 vets commit suicide every day.
As I walked north from lower Manhattan, my lingering sadness was once again joined by another, competing emotion — intense anger at the complicity of Washington policymakers whose global behavior placed Noel in harm's way.
Have we learned that these policies continue unabated and cause festering resentment in the wake of official state violence emanating from terrorists in business suits?
Our government has absolutely no interest in informing the public about any of this critically important larger context. That self-education requires Americans to engage in some fearless, independent and scrupulous soul searching — and then act on that knowledge.
Accepting that responsibility is the most appropriate 9/11 tribute to Noel and all the others.
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Gary Olson, Ph.D. Is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.