To the Editor: The 20th anniversary of 9/11 reminded me of my experience that day, and its critical impact over the next two decades.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a Home Instruction Teacher for the NYC Dept. of Education. That morning, I was planning to meet with the grade adviser for one of my students, who attended a school eight blocks from the World Trade Center. The adviser was unavailable, so I went to my first student. He lived in the Village on Thompson St., 20 blocks north of the Twin Towers.

At approximately 8:45 am, while instructing the student, we heard a loud roar from a plane that seemed to be flying directly over the roof of his sixth-floor building. Seconds later, there was the sound of a large crash. Everyone in the apartment rushed out to Thompson St. where a crowd had already gathered. It was a shock to look downtown and see the upper façade of one of the Twin Towers. There was fire and black smoke spewing out of a gaping hole.

What happened on 9/11 was shocking and horrifying. Unfortunately, our country's response has been disturbing and counterproductive. Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses carried out policies, beginning with the passage of the Patriot Act, that undermined civil liberties. There was a misguided, two-decade, $2 trillion intervention in Afghanistan; a disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq based on lies; constitutional abuses and violations of international laws by the Pentagon, the NSA and CIA.

The Justice Department has used the Espionage Act to charge whistleblowers who exposed these abuses, while those responsible were never held accountable. Accountability was also non-existent for Giuliani, Bloomberg, Pataki, Whitman and Bush who ignored, if not covered up, the dangerous air quality at Ground Zero and vicinity. 

Also troubling has been the following: support for brutal dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, where some officials might have had contact with the 9/11 hijackers. 

Over a half-century ago, President Eisenhower and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the dangers of militarism and its damaging effects on domestic priorities. Now, 20 years after 9/11, the country is experiencing a continued pandemic and a bitter partisan debate over President Biden's $3.5 trillion-dollar legislation addressing such vital needs such as child-care, paid leave, education and fighting climate change. Yet recently, Democrats and Republicans voted in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to increase by $24 billion the already excessive $715-billion defense budget proposed by Biden.

A key question, as New Yorkers and the rest of the country commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, is whether these policies have been the best way to combat the terrorist threat outside our borders (according to the FBI, right-wing domestic extremists pose a greater threat), defend the country against aggression from other nations, and protect our democratic processes from the harmful excesses of the National Security State.

HOWARD ELTERMAN


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