Why you should care
Because every country, nation or group of people has a date that is etched into its communal psyche. We’d all do well to remember. And learn.
September 11 has a life of its own in the United States — not just as a horrific event, but as the context for many of our government’s actions since. Searing dates are not unique to the United States, which doesn’t even have a monopoly on 9/11. Here are some examples from around the world.
In modern history, September 11 has been dealt a rotten hand. On that same date, almost three decades before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, the democratically elected, socialist government of Salvador Allende was violently ousted by his army chief, Augusto Pinochet. The coup d’état in ’73 ushered in 17 years of a brutal dictatorship: 3,065 were executed (or “disappeared”); 40,018 were arrested and tortured; and almost a million fled. The dead included Allende, who apparently committed suicide as troops surrounded the presidential palace.
Fearing an “irreversible Marxist regime,” Nixon’s CIA funneled $6.5 million to right-wing paramilitary groups, which helped stoke the fire of a sputtering economy and widespread protests and strikes during Allende’s last months. On the coup’s 40th anniversary, then-President Sebastián Piñera said, “We have to remember [9/11], because when we forget, sometimes we commit the same mistakes.” Please, please don’t forget.
26 July: The Day Mumbai Stood Still
A month before Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, Mumbai also suffered a “revenge of the real.” Meaning: “India’s Shanghai” and its big-talking politicians were brought to their knees by a record 30 inches of torrential rain. Shoddy drainage systems, an insufficient rescue effort and narrow-minded public planning conspired with merciless Mother Nature to take over 1,000 lives and cause $1 billion in damages, according to The Economist. It was a case of “ecological illiteracy.”
More than a nightmare, 26 July remains a harrowing reminder of the city’s shortcomings, and motivational fuel to fix them. Or not.
Terror Strikes Europe: 7/7 + 11-M
On July 7, 2005, the day after London was named host of the 2012 Olympics on a platform of multiculturalism, four bombs ripped through the city’s public transport during morning rush hour. The incident brought back traumatic memories of similar attacks on Madrid’s commuter train just over a year earlier, on March 11. The bombings in London and Madrid, which killed 52 (over 700 wounded) and 191 (over 1,700 wounded) respectively, were executed by Islamic extremists during the height of the “war on terror.”
As terrorism threat levels in the U.K. have been bumped to “severe” in response to the Islamic State’s actions in Iraq and Syria, harrowing parallels are being made to the 7/7 and 11-M attacks. Just as the 7/7 architects were British nationals, current “[terrorism] plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled [to Syria and Iraq] from the U.K. and Europe…” said U.K. home secretary Theresa May in a statement.
2/28 and Taiwan’s White Terror
Taiwan’s independence movement began in 1947 with one person, a female cigarette peddler. Sound familiar? The beating she received for illegally selling tobacco in Taipei sparked outcry against Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist party. Its swift and savage response to the protests marked the onset of 38 years of martial law. As many as 30,000 were executed at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek’s administration during the “White Terror.”
The barbaric reign ended in 1987, and 2/28 remained taboo (also sound familiar?) until the government’s first recognition of the massacre in the mid-1990s. The 2/28 Peace Memorial Park was inaugurated in 1996.