September 11th is more than the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City. Its resonance goes beyond simply being the day on which hijackers slammed planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, while another airplane was brought down in Pennsylvania field after its passengers battled for control of the cockpit.
For a generation of Chileans, September 11th is also the anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende. It was September 11, 1973 when the armed forces, minions of American might, moved against the popularly elected Socialist president of Chile, attacking the presidential palace in Santiago and plunging the nation into decades of brutal dictatorship under which thousands lost their lives. And September 11th is also the anniversary of the day in 1777 when George Washington lost the battle of Brandywine, which allowed the British to storm into our fledgling nation’s capital, Philadelphia, two weeks later.
Every country, and every era, has its 9/11, even if it doesn’t fall on September 11th.
• In Rwanda, it’s April 6th, the day in 1994 when the Hutu majority began the rampage that ultimately claimed the lives of between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsi citizens.
• In Lebanon, perhaps it’s September 16th, the day in1983, when a Christian militia, acting with tacit Israeli approval, invaded refugee camps and began killing thousands of Palestinians. Or perhaps it’s July 12th, the day just two months ago when a Hezbollah war party raided Israel and took several soldiers hostage, to which Israel responded with a month-long bombing campaign and ground invasion that killed perhaps 1,000 people.
• In Argentina, it might be June 20th, the day in 1973 when fascists opened fire on a crowd of 3 million awaiting the return of Juan Peron.
• In South Africa, it might be March 21st, the day in 1960 when police fired on demonstrators in the small town of Sharpeville who were protesting the apartheid pass laws, killing 69 and wounding several hundred. It was the start of a three-decade campaign, in which thousands of innocents gave their lives so that an entire people might be free.
• In Mexico, it might be October 2nd, the night in 1968 that came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre because several hundred demonstrators were killed in Mexico City.
• In Sarajevo, it is April 5th, the day in 1992 that the Serbian siege began. The siege that strangled the city lasted almost four years and took more than 12,000 lives.
• For Irish Catholics, it might be January 30th, Bloody Sunday, the day in 1972 when British troops opened fire on civil rights protesters in Derry, killing 26, six of whom were children and five of whom were shot in the back.
• For Armenians, it’s April 24th, the day 91 years ago when Turks started the campaign that led to an estimated 1.5 million Armenians being exterminated.
• For Jews, it’s perhaps November 9th, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, when the Nazis ordered attacks against Jews, one of the most severe salvos in a campaign that systematically killed millions.
• And in Iraq, perhaps, it is both July 16th, the day in 1979 when Saddam Hussein took power, and April 9th, the day in 2003 when U.S. forces took control of Baghdad. No decent citizen of the nation had any inkling then that the U.S. occupation would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents in what seems a brutal civil war.
So, yes, on this September 11th, let us honor the memory of the thousands who lost their lives five years ago in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. Let us celebrate the fidelity of the tens of thousands who lost loved ones and close friends that painful sun-drenched morning. Let us witness once again our fear and our fervor. But let us also remember that this day we hold in common memory is not exceptional. It is one of a series of days that remind the world of horror.
Senseless suffering is, sadly, universal. And so is the heroism of ordinary people who, despite their own pain and horror, react with incredible bravery and humanity, risking their lives to help their neighbors live on. Let us take this day to honor all victims of organized terror, of senseless violence, of collateral damage, of thoughtless invasion and destruction around the world. And let us honor, too, those patriotic world citizens who demand an end to the madness.