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daily kaddish: on the tenth anniversary of 9/11

On the tenth anniversary, a Kaddish for all those who died on 9/11 and in its aftermath. However you want to count them or categorize them, one thing is clear: 133,709 deaths is just too damned many.


Tonight Mira and I recorded a Kaddish together to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. We wanted to do a live, simultaneous collaboration, so to overcome the problem of my horn being much louder than her voice but making the recording with a single mic in a small room, I played with a mute in my bell the whole time. (Ideally we would do this using separate mics, in separate sound-proofed rooms, with each of us wearing headphones, and able to see each other through a large window.)

Mira opens, as she often has, with “Bismilleh al rahman al rahim,” the Islamic prayer opening that could be conservatively translated, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate.”

She continues with the traditional Hebrew/Aramaic prayer text, except that she improvises a global, ecumenical list in place of the traditional “may peace be on all Israel near the end. When Mira improvised her list, before the closing “Oseh shalom bimromav…” section, I paused and waited, so that we could finish the “Oseh shalom” on the final, more confident phrase of Kogan’s “Kaddish.”

I held the final note for 9 beats and then 11 beats more, and after a silent pause, Mira intoned a final “bismilleh.”

A kaddish for too many

In the beginning of the year before our “kaddish in two-part harmony” project began, I wrote an essay about disasters and our disproportionate response to them on the blog I write for my consultancy, Global Pragmatica LLC®. In that essay, I compared the death counts from 9/11 and Katrina, earthquakes in China and Haiti, and the tsunami in Indonesia. Quick, which do you think cost more lives? Can you picture a bar chart comparing them? Do your best, and then go look at the answers in that blog post from January 2010. You’ll probably be surprised.

But on this, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, let’s focus on just the numbers of that national tragedy.

Four commercial airliners were hijacked by nineteen terrorists from al Qaeda. Two of the planes  crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. One plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers attempted to regain control of the plane from hijackers; its intended target was believed to be in the Washington, D.C. area. President George W. Bush of the United States subsequently declared war on terrorism, invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, and then invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein—who had no known significant involvement in Al Qaeda its the attacks of September 11.

According to wikipedia summaries, the direct fatalies of these attacks numbered 2,996.

  • 2,606 people in the World Trade Center
  • 55 military personnel and 70 civilians at the Pentagon
  • 87 passengers and crew on American flight 11
  • 60 on United 175
  • 59 on American 77
  • 40 on United 93
  • 19 hijackers

There is no one reliable source of fatality counts from the aftermath, and with military operations ongoing, any numbers that do get published are probably out of date by the time anyone reads them. But the New York Times today published some stats:

  • 6,204 US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • 2,300 US contractors
  • 1,192 non-US coalition forces
  • 18,678 Iraqi and Afghan security forces
  • 102,339 minimum number of Iraqi civilians killed, including by other Iraqis

These estimates are probably far lower than the actual numbers of deaths that are more or less directly attributable to war, and “more or less directly attributable” is a crucial point. Do we count suicides among veterans who came home with post-traumatic stress syndrome? Do we count deaths by accident and suicide? What about car accidents by so-called “private contractors” with paramilitary duties in and around the war zones? How about all the deaths that come later, and the deaths that perhaps don’t come soon enough—some 320,000 US veterans are estimated to have brain injuries, for example, and I have to imagine that some of those people would rather be dead.

And what about the refugees? As one example, the UN estimated back in 2006—five years ago—that 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced to neighboring countries and 1.6 million were displaced within Internally, with nearly 100,000 Iraqis fleeing to Syria and Jordan per month.

You see the problem. These are slushy numbers, and probably far too small. But let’s graph them anyway.

Let’s consider this in terms of combatants (which is to say US, coalition, and “enemy” militaries, security forces, contractors, combatants, hijackers) and civilians or non-combatants:

And how about simplifying it still further, into the black-hats and white-hats as George W. Bush would see it—into “us” (the US and coalition forces) and “them” (the civilians and combatants “over there” that we call “the enemy”)?

However you want to count them or categorize them, one thing is clear: 133,709 deaths is just too damned many.

A kaddish for all of them.

By erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…

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