The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were personally devastating to thousands of people. Nearly 3,000 victims died.
The families and friends who lost loved ones so unexpectedly and violently not only had to suffer their own grief, but they also had to endure the unprecedented rehearsing of their personal pain in the public eye for days, weeks, months and years.
Their hurt was merchandised for profit and manipulated for politics. It was a horrible day.
And 10 years later, the United States is called to remember their losses, give thanks for the courageous rescuers and responders and learn something meaningful out of something awful.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, the majority of Americans lived with the illusion that they were invincible to a substantial attack on American soil.
They lived with the false impression that economic might and military strength could insulate the country from external aggression and assault.
The economic, political and media sectors were co-conspirators in perpetuating this myth of invincibility. But all fantasies eventually yield to reality.
It was a dramatic awakening and traumatic experience for America to learn that even the greatest country on earth is vulnerable, too.
The terrorist attacks were not stunning for some Americans because some of us know what it is to live under the threat of terrorism.
An estimated 645,000 Africans were brought as slaves to what is now the United States by the 19th century. Vestiges of slavery, segregation and discrimination continue to frustrate the full participation in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for African-Americans in the 20th century.
Nearly 110,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned in concentration camps in the 1940s in the aftermath of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Although President Reagan apologized for the country and Congress approved financial reparations, Japanese Americans remember what can happen to turn life upside down quickly.
The First Nations of what is now the United States endured forced removal of their lands (the Indian Removal Act) and genocide because of expansionism after the American Revolution.
How many people were murdered and internally dispersed cannot be numbered; their ongoing social distress continues to haunt them many generations removed.
Some of us in America know what it is to be threatened by terrorism. Some of us know what it is to be terrorized. Some of us know what it is to live in the aftermath of terrorist attacks personally and communally.
Our national leaders who lived with and helped perpetuate the American illusion of invincibility should have consulted some of us before responding. We could have helped.
The governmental response to the realization that all of us are vulnerable was violence.
A consequence of this violent response to vulnerability is the multiplication of victims who have died resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. personnel have been killed because of our invasion of Iraq, and nearly 1,800 U.S. personnel have been killed because of our invasion of Afghanistan.
No one knows how many innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is certain to be a sizeable multiple of U.S. causalities.
There were less than 3,000 deaths because of the Sept. 11 attacks. There are more than 6,000 U.S. deaths because of our response. Our national political response to the horrors 10 years ago is the death of more than twice the number of U.S. personnel than victims that perished on that dreadful day.
Added to the number of fatalities is the number of injured U.S. personnel.
Added to the number of deaths and injuries is the unfathomable amount of money that has been spent on war, its support systems and alleged homeland security, without insisting that to whom much has been given (opportunities and wealth) much is required.
If our leaders would have had the wisdom to talk to Americans who were not seduced by the illusions of invincibility, we could have helped.
As a member of a community that has known terror on American soil and who is very much aware that the political, economic, military and media powers could turn on me and mine any time, and as a Christian leader, I offer the following advice to the American people who are trying to respond to the devastation of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks meaningfully and constructively.
I offer this advice with full confidence that, with God, it is never too late to change course:
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanks giving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.