Nearly everyone remembers where they were 14-years ago this morning, on September 11, 2001, the day America was attacked by Al-Qaeda and we were pulled into a war in Afghanistan.
Many can remember where they were on March 19, 2003, the day our military invaded Iraq.
History has taught that those dates are part of two distinctly separate actions; one was a war of necessity while the other was a war of choice. In retrospect, maybe so, but at the time many Americans sure thought – or felt, rather – that they were part of the same fight.
Don’t think so? Well, bear with me for a moment while I try to explain:
Imagine for a moment the world’s nations as simply a bunch of guys at a roadside bar. One of them, a man named Mr. America, is a prosperous, healthy, and handsome man. He’s blessed, of course, works hard for his family and is charitable in his community (for instance, he buys drinks for nearly everyone at the bar, even those who dislike him, and every time a fellow patron suffers misfortune, Mr. America is always there to help).
So one day Mr. America is having a drink at the bar watching the game on television when someone taps him on the shoulder. He turns around with a smile only to be sucker-punched by Mr. Afghanistan.
He falls to the floor, out cold. The music stops, and the bar falls silent. Nobody had done that to Mr. America in decades, and everyone was waiting to see what would happen next.
As he regains consciousness, Mr. America tries to get his his footing and figure out what happened. His lip is busted and his nose is broken. He tastes the blood in his mouth, and rises from the floor, red hot with anger. Through watery eyes he looks to the shady corner of the bar where most of the thugs hangout, and there he is, Mr. Afghanistan, standing proud and defiant, with a smirk on his face. He’s proud of what he did.
The guys standing around Mr. Afghanistan slowly step away, fearing the fight that’s coming. Mr. America walks over to that corner of the bar and proceeds to beat Mr. Afghanistan into a bloody pulp.
After he’s finished, Mr. America looks up at the other guys in that shady corner. He’s breathing heavy and still reeling from being punched, unsure of who is going to hit him next. He’s not very popular in this part of the bar, to say the least. Could this be part of a coordinated fight? Is he about to be jumped again? He’s not sure, and he remains on edge.
“Everybody sit down and shut up!” Mr. America says. “Nobody do anything until I figure out what happened here, okay? If any of y’all so much as move a muscle, I’m going to start cracking skulls!”
It’s a dangerous part of the bar, full of thugs and near lunatics. Mr. America knows most of these guys pretty well, though, because he does business with some out of necessity. Some own a few gas stations in town, and Mr. America buys a great deal of fuel. He also has a little friend who won’t leave his spot at an old table because it was his grandfather’s seat, even though that part of the bar went bad a long time ago.
They all do as he says and sit down … except for one, a loudmouthed bully named Mr. Iraq. He and Mr. America had a pretty quick fight a few years earlier after Mr. Iraq was picking on one of the smaller guys in that part of the bar, one of the nicer ones who does business with Mr. America. Mr. Iraq got his clocked cleaned for that, and has never been able to get over it.
“You deserved it, Mr. America,” sniped Mr. Iraq. “And there’s going to be more of that coming, because everybody over here hates you. And we’re going to kill your little friend whenever you leave. You just wait and see. ”
Just then, Mr. America noticed what looked like a knife in Mr. Iraq’s pocket.
Now, here’s an important part of the story: after Mr. America had beaten the crap out of Mr. Iraq years earlier, one of the conditions of letting him stay in the bar was they he couldn’t carry weapons like that, and had to let the bouncer search him. But the last few times Mr. Iraq came into the bar, he wouldn’t agree to a search and hassled the bouncer (The bouncer only looked big, and he really depended on Mr. America for nearly everything, even his salary).
“Is that a knife in your pocket?” Mr. America asked.
“No,” said Mr. Iraq. “Well, maybe it is. Yes, it is! Wait, no, it isn’t … I don’t know. You’re a bully! Death to Mr. America!”
Just then Mr. Saudi Arabia signaled Mr. America for his attention. “Pssst! Hey, Mr. America, it is a knife … a poison-tipped knife, actually. We’ve known about it for a long time and are all pretty worried that he might use it again, like he did on Mr. Kurdistan a few years ago.” Mr. America looked to the rest of the guys in that part of the bar and many of them nodded in agreement.
“Death to Mr. America!” Mr. Iraq said again.
Even Mr. Britain, Mr. France, and Mr. Germany – three old guys who use to fight a great deal but who had settled down in recent years – agreed.
“Oui, oui monsieur,” said Mr. France, who went back to his fruity drink and ignored everything that happened next.
“That Mr. Iraq fellow indeed has a knife, old chap,” said Mr. Britain.
“And we’ve heard that it’s dipped in poison, too,” said Mr. Germany.
“Death to Mr. America!” Mr. Iraq said once more. This time he was joined in his chant by a complete nut job named Mr. Iran.
Mr. America shook his head in disbelief. “Turn your pockets inside out, Mr. Iraq, or I’ll do it for you, and it won’t be comfortable.”
“Screw you! Death to Mr. America!”
Mr. America looked over to the bouncer. “Are you going to do anything about this?” he asked, but the bouncer pretended not to hear him and looked away.
Mr. America sighed. “Alright, everybody step back,” he said, and then did what any responsible man would do. He walked over to Mr. Iraq and proceeded to beat him to a bloody pulp as well.
After it was all over, Mr. America didn’t find a poison-tipped knife, but he did find a small pocket knife, an order form for a switch blade, and a “to do” list that mentioned something about buying poison and gas and lots of other bad things. Mr. America called the cops to haul Mr. Iraq away, who, along with the bouncer, gave him a great deal of grief for beating up Mr. Iraq.
“You should have been more restrained, Mr. America,” the cops said. “Yeah,” said the bouncer. “I didn’t think Mr. Iraq was doing anything wrong, which is why I didn’t do anything to him. That Mr. America is such a bully.”
Mr. America then started to clean up the mess as best he could, and insisted on paying for whatever damage was caused. The bar went back to normal for a little while, but Mr. America kept having trouble with Mr. Iraq for many more nights.
So, what did 9/11 have to do with our war in Iraq?
Fear and anger.
That may seem like an unsophisticated rationale for a global military conflict, but such is the cause of nearly every fight in the history of mankind, large and small.