There is a small wooded area a few miles from my house in Pennsylvania where a fieldstone farmhouse once proudly reigned over many acres of lush fields, woods and pastures. All that is left are some remnants of its stone foundation, and an old silo. A still beautiful but small field is sprinkled with large mature trees, and a small woods in back is all that keeps two new housing developments from dominating the once rural landscape. The local township recently purchased this acreage and erected a sign indicating that it is the future sight of a 9/11 memorial park. I stopped along the side of the road and took my dog for a walk through the area.
Wild flowers and lush grass were abundant, and if I had been psychic, I could have experienced some of the long gone history of this farm and its inhabitants. Just as my imagination was taking be back to the good old days, we arrived at the center of this oasis where a large circular area was littered with burned candles, cheap glass candleholders, flag holders and other discarded evidence of a recent memorial service for the 9/11 disaster. I noticed many identical bouquets of flowers lying around in a relatively small area that had hosted a memorial service just 11 days earlier. The flowers had since dried, but they were still wrapped in the paper that a florist had prepared, each with a business card, so the opportunity for commerce goes on. It is ironic that, by memorializing a big disaster, people had created a mini disaster in the middle of this beautiful setting. Construction markings for putting a paved access road and circle drive were indicators of more memorializing to come. Enough already.
September 11th, 2001 was a day that has been, and will be, memorialized in this country for decades to come. The World Trade Center disaster killed 2,976 people in the short span of a few hours. I watched in horror along with much of the nation as the event was happening. But since then I've slowly grown increasingly annoyed and cynical about how much 9/11 has been, and continues to be, hyped as the greatest disaster ever in the United States of America. I still remember when it was the Civil War. Or was it the great earthquake in San Francisco, or the horrible Chicago fire? Americans love to remember their disasters -- as long as they are not too old.
Why am I annoyed? Because every day there are horrible accidents that kill far more people, and the public doesn't seem to take notice. They think those disasters are a normal and routine part of life. If one person is mangled in a car accident, it is treated as no big deal – unless the victim happens to be someone you know and love. The family of the person who dies doesn't make millions because of the death. The families of 9/11 victims were paid a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 and up to 4.7 million, with the average death benefit being $1,185,000. Why?
If one of my family members gets killed in a car crash, I get nothing. If they were killed in 9/11 I'd be rich. As Rush Limbaugh so aptly pointed out regarding families of solders killed in Iraq, "...the first check you get is a $6,000, direct death benefit, half of which is taxable. Next, you get $1,750 for burial costs. If you are the surviving spouse, you get $833 a month until you remarry. And there's a payment of $211 per month for each child under 18." Evidently tragic death in the service of one's country is not worth nearly as much as tragic death at the office. And perhaps the more people that die with you, the more valuable your death becomes. Dying alone seems to have little value or importance anymore.
Of course, as unjust as it seems, the real issue here is not how much money someone makes when his or her loved one is tragically killed.The real issue is that our nation has rallied around a huge symbolic disaster while virtually ignoring the fact that many more people are killed every day in mini disasters around the world that, by and large, are treated as normal
In the twelve-month periods before and after 9/11 there were 3,287 people killed every day in vehicle accidents around the world. (WHO/World Bank report). Also during these same periods 1,370 people were killed every day by conventional weapons. (Amnesty magazine, Issue 22, November-December 2003). Nine/Eleven was a one-day disaster that killed 2,967 people, while elsewhere around the world on that day 4,657 more people died in tragic deaths that went unnoticed. These statistics don't include the many people who were burned to death (4,000 a year on average just in the US according to the FDA), or the 3 million who died from AIDS in 2002, or were killed in other types of accidents at home and elsewhere.
In the overall picture, 9/11 was no big deal in terms of numbers of deaths. It only accounted for 0.06% of the violent deaths that year, and probably less than half of all tragic deaths that day. But because it happed all at once in a span of a few hours, and represented an intentional attack on the United States, it was a big deal. Let's just keep in mind that it's not just the number of deaths that made it significant, but the act itself and the reasons behind it. If high numbers of deaths were a big deal, cars and weapons would have been outlawed years ago. A 9/11 disaster every day wouldn't match the other deaths in terms of the numbers of people violently killed.
As my dog and I took one more walk around the future 9/11 memorial park, I visualized contractors putting in roads, fences, signs and some type of memorial in this beautiful spot. It will never again look as nice. I wondered how many other 9/11 memorials have been and will be built around the country. I felt saddened for the many more people who have died violently without any memorial, and I felt sorry for these few acres that are being violated in behalf of a disaster that, in the big picture, was not all that big in terms of people's lives. I felt a brief wave of guilt for being so cynical, because memorials are supposed to be sacred and above reproach. But memorials are all about looking back and remembering, so as we walked out of the park, I looked back one last time.