On September 11th

A woman at the bar when I came in this afternoon:

“Well, he’s a foreigner.” She spat the word. “He’s a dicksucker, but I mean what do you expect?”

I think my eyebrows lifted off my forehead and were lost somewhere in my hairline. But I don’t know what to expect in the US these days, to be honest.I haven’t lived here full-time since 2009, and I notice differences. I quickly folded my face back into something resembling neutral, but I know the girl with short hair saw my hastily-hidden shock. I ordered a Golden Mosaic and went to sit in the sauna-like bier garden out back.

It’s downright weird to be here on September 11th. That day seems so far away now. Put it the way I did to my students last year during our discussion of the Paris attacks…it’s more than half my life (and will always be).

We’ve been at war in Afghanistan since I was 14. I’m 28.

My 14 year old students were born after September 11, 2001. That means that it’s much more distant in time to them than the Fall of the Berlin Wall was to me. I was barely a year old and have no real recollection of the event. They weren’t even yet conceived.

The collective grieving has slowed, but not stopped. Today, as every 11th September for fourteen years, the names of the 2,977 who died that day in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania were read aloud at the World Trade Center site. I noticed that they deliberately used children of eleven or twelve for part of the ceremony. They, like my students, were not even beginning life when this thing happened. And yet there they were, enacting a national grief that they don’t really…get. They read the names in practiced, perfect, put-on adult tones suited to the seriousness of their task, the importance of the commemoration.

I fidgeted uncomfortably, watching them.

How I wish I were Orwell. I’d write some well-crafted, searing essay that would convince you all. But all I am is Coleen, and all I have is pathos layered on statistics. The huge, sweeping, perpetual national grief over 9/11 is a problem.

It masks our bigger problems. For fifteen years, we’ve been distracted by the “War on Terror.” Do you remember it ever stopping? Was it when we declared to the world, “Mission Accomplished?” Was it when our troops were pulled out of Iraq? Was it when Osama Bin Laden was shot through the head and paraded in horrific Blair Witch tones, nightvision photos the vindication we sought for years after the Twin Towers fell?

It hasn’t stopped, but then it probably never will. It’s useful, this expedient blaming of terrorists and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ for all the ills of our society. In Donald “J” Trump’s campaign, it’s crystallised. Everything is an outsider actor’s fault. We’re under attack. Our American values are under attack. We are the last bastion of Western values (You’re on your own, ‘No-Go Zone’ Europe.).

I am disgusted.

There is a silent war at home that has marched on in spite of all the effort, money, and lives spent ‘fighting terrorism’ since the attack on 9/11. While we worked to revenge those who were taken away by terrorism on that awful day, the cultural diseases that threaten Americans much more were left to fester. Chicago is only one of the cities that displays our issues to the world.

Since September 11th 2001, the US Armed Forces count 2384 deaths in Afghanistan and 4504 deaths in the Iraq War.

The combined total is still more than 1000 people lower than the shooting deaths in Chicago during the same period:

More than 7916 people are dead who were shot on the streets of Chicago since September 2001.

Since this data was published by the BBC and Chicago Tribune last Tuesday, 13 more people were shot and 3 more have been killed.

The BBC’s coverage this week is just amazing. Take a look at this documentary that came out this week. 

Chicago is only the beginning.

“According to figures from the US Department of Justice and the Council on Foreign Affairs, 11,385 people died on average annually in firearm incidents in the US between 2001 and 2011.” –BBC World News

If we take that estimate, which includes suicides and police involved shootings along with homicides, then multiply by the 15 years since September 11th:

~170,775 killed in those fifteen years

Oh yes, but it could be higher. The CDC estimated that between 2005 and 2013, the number of violent gun deaths between just is


Jesus. That’s not even counting the years between 2001-2005. Given that we average 12,000+ firearm deaths in the US per year, let’s call it


Put another way, that’s about 110 September 11ths. Imagine if there had been a terrorist attack the size of 9/11 ever 49.7 days, every single year since September 2001. For half of my life, 2,977 people dead from firearms every fifty days. It boggles the mind.

The one that really got me was when this was published. The claim was that more people have been killed in the USA by firearms since 1968 than in ALL wars in US history.

It’s a claim that sounds so outlandish that it just couldn’t be true. It would be too depressing. What would it say about us?

But it’s true. 

Total US deaths in all wars in our history: 1,171,177.
Total US deaths by firearms (homicide, accident, suicide): 1,384,171

Those numbers are from 2013.

I don’t have some grand statement to make about these numbers. I just feel sad. There is an acceptance of gun violence that borders on making it into a natural disaster in the US. Imagine tornadoes armed with AR-15s. An act of God. It feels wrong to reverently read 2,977 names aloud each year for fifteen years when so many anonymous thousands lay dead in the same time period. We’ve forgotten the terror we wreak upon ourselves.

Americans know that toddlers killed more Americans than terrorists in 2015. Americans know that the University of Texas just passed a policy that allows students to carry concealed weapons on campus.We know that a major party candidate called for political violence against his opponent this year, calling on “2nd Amendment People” to take matters into their own hands. We know that each time something like Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, San Bernadino, or Charleston happens, the discussion will peak with thoughts and prayers, and lead to exactly no change whatsoever.

We mobilized $4.4 trillion in the aftermath of 9/11 to fight terrorists around the world. Where is the will to fight our demons at home? Where are the somber adverts with people looking out over the Hudson River, remembering the thousands slaughtered in acts of the mundane? Who will read aloud those names?

I have nothing profound left to say. It grinds along, this violence, and nothing I or anyone else says seems to be able to make a difference. I just wish that this day of remembrance for the last fifteen years was more accurate.

Three Speeches

I’m not one to use this blog much for political grandstanding. With the occasional exception of complaining that my vote was not counted and a record of joining up (and breaking up) with Occupy Wall Street last year, the Activism part of Reverse Retrograde has almost always been on a personal level. Cut down my own spending and consumption. Buy only ethically-sourced makeup. Consignment-only fashion.

Days were necessary for me to decide what to say (if anything) about the school shooting at Sandy Hook. In all honesty, I hoped to temper my immediate visceral reaction with a few days of digesting and preparing to react. I felt my reaction wouldn’t be complete until I had taught my own students, and realized how much older than the tiny victims they all are. I hoped for some objectivity.

I may have failed. Today I stumbled upon this video on Youtube, and I was struck by it.

Three presidents, three school shootings, three speeches. Yet in the thirteen years since Columbine, those years which saw me grow up and formed the foundation for my adult life…almost nothing about how we deal with these tragedies has changed. Not even the words from the presidents. Most of us who grew up in the US during this period could probably rattle off a speech for reacting to a shooting verbatim, because we’ve heard them so many times.

We’ve seen at least 179 school shootings in the United States since April 1999. One hundred. Seventy. Nine. Not all of those shootings involved deaths, and thus many have been forgotten or ignored. Only a handful have made it onto the national stage.

The words of these three presidents mean absolutely nothing if they are not reinforced by concrete actions, and frankly we’ve all failed each other in the last thirteen years. How could we allow 179 examples of attempted or successful cold-blooded murder in our schools to change nothing about how we react to and move on from shootings? We can’t even truly have a national conversation about this, because it’s never the right time to have a dialogue about guns.

I suppose that’s a somewhat unfair assessment. The reaction has changed. People like Mike Huckabee have decided that it’s their place to tell us exactly why children died in a primary school, deciding that he alone is the mouthpiece for the divine.

People like Huckabee are doing the same as all the rest of us, grasping at any possible explanation for the slaughter so that we might not have to face the random and unpredictable nature of school and other mass shootings. If we could only blame “God’s exit from society” or contraceptives, or abortion, or gay marriage, or violence in movies, or values, or rock and roll, or feminism, or gun control, or WalMart, or any one thing…we wouldn’t have to place the blame where it truly belongs.

We have no one to blame for these shootings but ourselves.

If we are willing to sacrifice children as young as six to the Liberty we cling to in our guns, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we stand by Newtown as we stood by Littleton and Blacksburg, but make no real effort to change gun and mental health access in the United States, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we allow the hollow words of a president to convince us that enough is being done, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Make no mistake: This can and will happen again if real change is not enacted.

I can’t stand another thirteen years of this. I can’t stand a single death more. I can’t stand the thought that I can’t walk into a movie theater or a school in the United States without that tiny voice in the back of my mind whispering, “Know your exits. If the shooter comes in the back, where will you go?” I can’t stand the thought of sending a child of mine into the ever-present possibility of violence.

This has to stop. The only chance we have is to start placing blame where it belongs, and transforming that realization into real and lasting change. I don’t pretend to have any answers, but I know that the first steps have to be taken now, before the memory fades away and we forget until the next time. Start the conversation. Start taking action.

This time, we must change.

Start here: Read up on the latest research into the United States’ gun culture.