Remembering September 11, 2001
“Mike November for Mike India, Mike November for Mike India, Mike India come in.”
“Mike India here.”
“Mike India, turn on the TV. Something is happening in the US.”
My driver had just dropped me off at the team house in Peje. I was arriving back in Kosovo after a training with HQ, in the Swiss Alps. It was a sunny, beautiful day. I was tired from traveling but in good spirits.
The radio message was confusing. “Mike November” was the call sign for our country director, Matthew. He liked to kid around. I assumed that’s what he was doing. But his voice didn’t sound like it.
I turned on the satellite TV and tried to find a news channel. In Western Kosovo, nearly every home had been damaged or destroyed during the recent war. But like flowers after a forest fire, satellite TVs had sprung back up immediately. You were just as likely to see a satellite dish outside a UNHCR shelter as a surviving home.
I caught a signal and tried to figure out what was going on. A reporter was talking. I could see the World Trade Center behind her. A plume of smoke vented out of one side, high up on the building. The reporter seemed confused as well. It sounded like an airplane had crashed into the tower.
While watching, trying to understand, another jet swept in and crashed into the building. There was an explosion.
And the world shifted.
You probably remember where you were too.
In my case, I was thousands of miles away in a beaten-up, backwater part of Europe. The only American on our team. One of very few Americans in that part of Kosovo.
Over the following days and weeks, I listened to reports from the United States. There was incredible (and seemingly forgotten) unity as people pulled together for the recovery effort. The nation grappled to understand what had happened, who did this, and why.
I felt immensely alone and separated from it all.
Many of our Albanian staff sought me out to express their grief and condolences. Often with tears in their eyes. Most Albanians are nominally Muslim. This was true for our staff as well.
Ironically, while the US was grappling with an attack from Islamic terrorists, the people who most wrapped themselves around me to offer support were Muslims.
And it wasn’t just our staff.
A tiny old woman, from a distant village, appeared at our office door one day. She had been searching through the city for Americans. Someone told her about me and she found our office.
Through a translator, she told me, “I’m sorry this happened. I had to find an American to talk to. We will never forget how America saved us from the Serbs.”
She gave me a ring and a small, beaded statuette of a bird standing on a serpent. The bird represented Kosovo, and the serpent was Serbia.
She wore her poverty in her rough, worn clothing. I knew how difficult it was to travel from her village. I still feel emotional when I think about the effort she took, knocking on doors, just to find an American, any American.
She didn’t even know me.
But she understood pain, loss, and gratitude in a way that I couldn’t fathom. Frankly, as awful as September 11th was — her experiences across decades of communism, tyranny, and ethnic cleansing were worse.
In spite of this, something in her wanted to reach out to console a stranger.
Twenty years later, I still have her ring and the beaded statue.
Life is more beautiful and complicated than we give it credit for.
I haven’t forgotten…
20 years ago, the Taliban was a very real, very deep evil. For years, they had enjoyed a stranglehold of control on Afghanistan.
20 years later, we’ve technically ended the war and left. The Taliban are back. This time we gave them the keys. We’ve up-armed them. We are publicly saying we might fund (read: pay ransom to) them.
This is the same Taliban who previously wouldn’t let children fly kites, own dolls, or clap at a soccer game. Chess was illegal. Nothing could be owned that produced “the joy of music”. Girls weren’t allowed to go to school. Women weren’t allowed to work.
Sharia law is strict on its own. But the Taliban knew that it didn’t go nearly far enough.
The Ghazi stadium in Kabul was converted into a public execution site. So many people were shot, beheaded, and dismembered there that the grass would no longer grow. It was that polluted with blood.
After the US intervention, the soil from the stadium had to be dug up three feet down and replaced.
These are the people we are pretending to negotiate with.
We needed to end the war. But we essentially already had.
You can end a war without withdrawing support. We had far fewer troops in Afghanistan than we still maintain in places where we’ve ended other wars — like Germany, Japan, South Korea, or the Philippines.
We clearly know how to end wars without letting everything collapse. It was callous and unconscionable to allowed that kind of evil that is the Taliban to return.
We aren’t closing the chapter on Afghanistan. We’re starting a new one.
An Accounting from Leaders
The lack of foresight, planning, honesty, transparency, and accountability demonstrated by current leadership is appalling. Sickening.
In fact, the only leader who appears to be “held to account” is Lt. Colonel Stuart Scheller, the Marine who demanded an accounting from his chain of command. He was fired and may be court-martialed.
We’ve left Americans behind. We’ve also left behind most of the Afghan nationals who supported US efforts over the years. We’ll probably pay “ransom” for some of the Americans. We’ll probably just forget about the others who are already being hunted down with the help of data and technology we’ve left behind.
It’s a broken promise and it is disgusting.
Why Remembrance Matters
This week, as the country remembers 9/11, I can’t forget the context that drove the attacks and was created by them.
We shouldn’t. Because those ripple effects haven’t stopped moving.
However, this is also not a “never forget, never forgive” article. That’s not a credo I believe in.
But I will say the emperor has no clothes and looks bad doing it.
This week, I remember… the 2,977 people who were lost in the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and Flight 93.
The 200+ people who chose to jump rather than burn or suffocate.
The 6000+ injured.
The passengers and flight attendants who fought back on Flight 93
The over 90 countries that lost citizens, family members, and loved ones that day.
I remember the heroism of the first responders who entered burning, collapsing towers to save who they could. 411 died in the attempt to save lives.
I remember the sustained outpouring of support volunteers and resources towards the recovery effort and after.
I remember the many friends and acquaintances who have served and fought in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Not all came home whole. Not all came home.
Additionally, I remember:
· The 13 US Service members killed and 18 wounded in the August 26th suicide bombing in Kabul.
· The 170 others who were killed and many more wounded in the August 26th suicide bombing in Kabul.
· The 35,000 veterans who called the VA suicide hotline during the evacuation of Kabul.
I pray for those grieving, those who grew up without a parent, those who lost a partner or a child, those struggling to hold onto their own life. I pray for this nation. I pray for the Afghan people.
Lord…have mercy. We don’t know what we are doing.
Originally published at https://www.christianmuntean.com on September 7, 2021.