Like virtually anyone older than their mid-20s, I remember exactly where I was the morning of September 11, 2001. I was three days into my freshman year at college, and I awoke to a classmate pounding on my door. I was one of the few kids in the stairwell to bring a TV, and the student -- from Westchester, NY -- needed to turn on the news.
The morning was spent like most everyone's: glued to the television, flipping between CNN and the networks, trying to absorb every piece of new information and make sense of what had happened.
It was in the hours after the second tower collapsed that I first began to feel afraid. I remember the moment. I was watching one of the news programs and they flashed a graphic with the border title, "AMERICA UNDER ATTACK" or "ATTACK ON THE HOMELAND," something like that. I saw that graphic and this thought popped into my head: "Oh shit -- my country is about to start acting very, very stupid."
I thought about that moment today, hearing the news from Brussels.
Not in the sense that I feared a dangerous overreaction from the U.S. or Europe to the attacks, though that's an issue. More in the sense that it can be strange how much we elevate terrorism and terrorist attacks in our social consciousness, the outsized place they commandeer in our social consciousness. All yesterday morning, the chatter bouncing between my friends and on social media was condolences to Belgium, while most online magazines had multiple front page stories on the attacks. It's hard to call any of that inappropriate; my brother worked in one of the Twin Towers, and I can only imagine if I had to live the rest of my life with the loss I felt in the hours before he could reach my family and tell us he was okay.
And yet . . . 33 people were killed. Many, many more die every day, all over the world, for equally heinous reasons. Last week, in Ankara, 37 died in a bombing. Last month in Chicago, there were 45 homicides. There's a chance the coltan in the phone you're reading this blog on was mined by a child slave. And I know, the existence of other tragedies doesn't lessen the horror of what happened in Brussels -- and it feels callous to even by implication diminish these losses, especially so soon after the attacks -- but at the same time I can't really justify how much more disposable these other deaths seem to us.
Because there is, undoubtedly, something different in the way we respond to tragedies based around terror. In June 2001, three New York firefighters -- Harry Ford, John J. Downing, and Brian Fahey -- died while fighting a building fire in Astoria. It's hard to call their individual sacrifice any less heroic than the deaths of firemen that occurred three months later, but we created a $7 billion fund to compensate the latter. I don't feel that establishing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was in any way wrongful, and yet . . . what truly separates these cases? How much more death and destruction was caused -- both American and foreign -- to provide vengeance to these latter victims? How many more victims were created?
I don't know exactly what I feel here. While I sympathize with anyone who is injured or lost loved ones in Belgium, there's something about pushing the terror attacks to the top of the inbox for international attention, and treating these deaths as more important and significant than the thousands that occur around the globe daily, that seems wrongful and dangerous.