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September 9, 2021 · OPINION

Attention deficit disorder two decades after 9/11

Photo/Max Hall
Arlington National Cemetery near the Wright Gate, an entrance to Fort Meyer.
By Max Hall
Marshall

In Sympathy for the Devil, Mick Jagger famously sang: “I shouted out, Who killed the Kennedys? When after all it was you and me.”

One might ask the very same question about Afghanistan. As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I can’t help but wonder how much culpability all of us have for these 2,455 soldier’s deaths and $2 trillion spent.

Some folks are suddenly concerned about the last 13 who died in Afghanistan, but they don’t seem to have cared about the thousands who died in the previous two decades. Of course, the 2,455 soldiers killed doesn’t include the 3,476 contractors who also died there.

And, there is of course the money. In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan (all government agencies, not just the Department of Defense). That’s $300 million per day, every day, for the last two decades.

Where are we, the American people, in all of this? It’s as if we as a nation have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with our very own combination of inattentiveness, impulsivity and then hyperactivity. Doesn’t that describe how we as a country react to so many things?

Did we previously care about the Afghan women? The translators? Our GIs there? Now, we are magically, gravely concerned. Where were we one year, five years, 10 years or 20 years ago? Sadly, we all know the answer to that question.

Our presidents, Republican and Democrat, committed our troops to Afghanistan. Our Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, approved the dollars spent there. It’s pretty easy to engage in a 20-year war with other people’s sons and daughters, and finance it with deficit spending. Just send kids, guns and money…. And now? Now all anyone wants to do is find someone to blame. American hypocrisy knows no limit and has no shame.

It’s not a problem though. With our collective ADHD, our attention will soon flit to some other topic du jour and those 20 years will quickly fade away. We might briefly look at the problems that confront us here and now at home – disease, healthcare, environmental challenges, domestic terrorism, inequality and border issues, to name a few. Will we have the moral courage, conviction and concentration to do the hard work and address these and other concerns?

Where is the soul of America these days? Where have our humanity, faith and decency gone? Perhaps we should start with those.

Maybe, on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 we can quietly remember how we felt 20 years ago. We can at least try to reclaim some of our humanity, faith and decency. If we don’t, the rest of the Stones’ lyrics might well prove prophetic for us as a nation:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long years
Stole million man’s soul an faith …

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
’Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politnesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste …

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the writer served 14 years in the Army, nine of those overseas.
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