Explaining 9/11

After ten years, what’s the easiest way to review, clearly and briefly, the events around Sept. 11, 2011? Perhaps the best way is to imagine you had to explain Sept. 11, 2001 to a child.

Child: Hey Dad, I have to write a report about 9/11 for school and I some questions. First, why did 9/11 cause us to go to war with Iraq?

Dad: Well, we went to war with Iraq because our country was brutally attacked on Sept. 11, 2001 and almost 3,000 people were killed.

Child: So why did Iraq attack us?

Dad: Iraq didn’t attack us. We were attacked by Islamic terrorists.

Child: Did they come from Iraq?

Dad: No. Most came from Saudi Arabia.

Child: Oh. Did we go to war with Saudi Arabia?

Dad: Of course not. They produce lots of oil so they’re one of our closest friends in that part of the world.

Child: Well, did Iraq have anything to do with the terrorists that attacked us?

Dad: No. In fact, after we went to war, President Bush said there was no evidence Iraq had any involvement in 9/11.

Child: So was 9/11 a complete surprise or did we know they might attack us?

Dad: Oh it was a complete surprise. Except for the briefings where the president was told that the system was “blinking red” with warnings about impending terrorist attacks from al Qaeda targeting New York City, Washington DC and the World Trade Center.

Child: So what did the president do after receiving this warning?

Dad: Well, first he took a month-long vacation playing golf, fly fishing, and clearing brush on his estate in Texas.

Child: You mean after he was warned about a possible attack, he took a long vacation over 1000 miles from where he was told the attack might happen? What’d he do when the attack actually occurred?

Dad: He was reading with a group of school children in a Florida classroom when one of his aids told him the country was under attack.

Child: And then I’ll bet he sprang into action to defend the country, right?

Dad: No. After being told the country was under attack, he sat there reading a children’s book for several more minutes while the attacks were still under way.

Child: So after ignoring warnings about the impending attack and responding slowly when it occurred, Bush then chose to go to war with a country that didn’t attack us?

Dad: Well yes, but we also sent a smaller number of troops into Afghanistan where the terrorist group was based.

Child: Oh I get it. We wiped out the terrorists in Afghanistan and chased them into Iraq.

Dad: No. The terrorists continued to hide in Afghanistan. In fact, after a few years the Taliban and al Qaeda took back control over much of Afghanistan.

Child: What did Bush do when the terrorists regained control of Afghanistan?

Dad: He sent 40 thousand more troops.

Child: To Afghanistan?

Dad: No Iraq.

Child: Wait, he kept sending more soldiers to go to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and very few after the terrorists that actually attacked us? Am I missing something?

Dad: President Bush said we needed to remove the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and destroy the weapons of mass destruction that he could some day use against us

Child: Now I get it. After we overthrew Saddam, we destroyed his weapons of mass destruction.

Dad: Well, that’s the funny part. It turns out they never actually had any weapons of mass destruction and didn’t pose any threat to us.

Child: Really? So how many people died in the Iraq war?

Dad: Sadly, about 4500 Americans have died so far and over 30,000 have been maimed or wounded. Oh, and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis died too.

Child: Wow. But the Iraqis must be happy now that Saddam is gone and a new government is in place.

Dad: Well, no. After we removed Saddam, several Iraqi militia groups formed and there was an Iraqi Civil War that has continued for 8 years.

Child: So did any good come from the Iraq war?

Dad: Well Bush said we went to war to make Iraq a stable democracy as an example to the rest of the Islamic world.

Child: And how did that work out?

Dad: The new Iraqi government is leaning toward becoming an Islamic theocracy like Iran. Women have few rights in the new Iraq and there are still many violent attacks and bombings there.

Child: Did we at least defeat the terrorists?

Dad: Well, the State Department says the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased in the years since the Iraq war began.

Child: But, hey, at least we weren’t attacked again on Bush’s watch after 9/11, right?

Dad: That’s right, unless you count the anthrax attacks, or the shoe bomber who tried to blow up an airplane headed for Miami, or the Egyptian terrorist who shot six people, killing two, at the Los Angeles International Airport on July, 4, 2002.

Child: But we finally got bin Laden. I mean, that’s something, right?

Dad: Yeah, although Bush took resources away from the hunt for bin Laden to focus on Iraq back in 2003 when he said he wasn’t interested in finding bin Laden. It was President Obama who put a renewed effort into targeting bin Laden.

Child: OK. Here’s what I’ve got so far. After President Bush ignored warnings about an impending terrorist attack, he took a month long vacation 1000 miles from where he was told the attack might happen. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, we were attacked by terrorists from Saudi Arabia who were trained in Afghanistan. So we subsequently went to war with Iraq, who, the president admits, had nothing to do with 9/11, while we sent relatively few troops after the real terrorists in Afghanistan who did attack us. We also went to Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction which didn’t exist and to kill a dictator who posed no threat to us. The war resulted in increased terrorism around the world and a violent civil war in Iraq. And, instead of a democracy, the government of Iraq may become an Islamic theocracy like Iran. So I just have one more question. What does former president Bush now think about the Iraq war?

Dad: Bush believes the Iraq war was a smashing success and says it’s a model to spread democracy and freedom throughout the world.

Child: Maybe I should just write a report about something less complicated, like hurricane Katrina.