Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Mourners attend a funeral in Iraq

Iraqis grieve at the funeral of their relatives, who were killed during a U.S. air strike in Samarra, Iraq in October 2007. (Photo: Dia Hamid/AFP via Getty Images)

The Innocent Victims of America's War on Terror Deserve Remembrance Too

Countless people died in the 20 years of war our country launched in the name of our 9/11 dead.

Mitchell Zimmerman

 by OtherWords

Few who offer their prayers this September in the hallowed plaza where the Twin Towers once stood will be aware that the September 11 memorial echoes a 1987 Holocaust “counter-memorial” in Kassel, Germany.

America’s post-9/11 wars have caused nearly a million deaths. They’ve also made millions of refugees and inflicted malnutrition, birth defects, and other health disasters on generations of children in Iraq and other war zones.

Like our memorial, the German monument consists of a hollow in the shape of what had once been there, into which water flows. But the scope of the remembrances evoked by the two memorials are revealingly different.

We Americans want only to recall our innocent dead and to honor them. Unlike the Germans, we spurn acknowledging the evils done in their name that came to be intertwined with our losses, the catastrophe we inflicted on other innocent nations.

In 1939, the Nazis destroyed a forty-foot pyramidal fountain in Kassel, Germany because it had been built by a Jew, the entrepreneur Sigmund Aschrott. The elimination of “the Jews’ Fountain” was soon followed by the elimination of Kassel’s 3,000 Jews themselves.

Forty-five years later it was proposed to rebuild the fountain. But simply rebuilding the original fountain would have erased the memory of its destruction. So artist Horst Hoheisel designed a new fountain: “a mirror image of the old one, sunk beneath the old place in order to rescue the history of this place as a wound and an open question.”

It’s part of the way Germans have accepted responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era. The small monument conjures the sadness of loss, and the responsibility of a people for acts that can never be made right.

The mass murder of Americans, the crime of September 11, 2001, spawned a larger tragedy for others. Treating the 9/11 “war on terrorism” as license for war on Afghanistan as well as on Iraq, our government invaded both countries, overthrew their governments, and occupied them.

To our 9/11 memorial, America should add a wall on which we engrave the names of the million innocent men, women, and children slain in those futile wars.

Far-seeing people like Rep. Barbara Lee warned that war on Afghanistan was the wrong response to the 9/11 attacks, and they were right. But using the attacks as a pretext to attack Iraq was arguably even more absurd and criminal.

“In the weeks immediately after 9/11,” Bush White House anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke confirmed, the president told “the Pentagon to prepare for the invasion of Iraq… Even though they knew at the time from me, from the FBI, from the CIA, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.”

As a delegation from our British allies secretly reported to their government before the invasion, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of going to war.

Even by relatively conservative estimates, America’s post-9/11 wars have caused nearly a million deaths. They’ve also made millions of refugees and inflicted malnutrition, birth defects, and other health disasters on generations of children in Iraq and other war zones.

It would represent no insult to the memory of the innocents murdered in America, 20 Septembers ago, were we to acknowledge and memorialize the carnage and catastrophe we unleashed in other countries. To our 9/11 memorial, America should add a wall on which we engrave the names of the million innocent men, women, and children slain in those futile wars.

I don’t think that’s likely anytime soon, but the proposal may be useful. As Hoheisel says, “That’s how a counter-monument works. People get angry, they write letters, but you have a discussion. Out of this void, the history begins to come out.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Mitchell Zimmerman

Mitchell Zimmerman

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller "Mississippi Reckoning" (2019).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Surging Prices Amid Ukraine War Have Pushed 71 Million People Worldwide Into Poverty

As the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, said one U.N. official, "the threat of increased social unrest grows by the day."

Julia Conley ·


Slamming Their Profits From 'Weapons of War,' House Panel Asks Gun CEOs to Testify

"Products sold by your company have been used for decades to carry out homicides and even mass murders," the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee told the top executives of three major gun makers.

Jake Johnson ·


Lee, Pocan File Amendment to Slash $100 Billion From US Military Budget

"For far too long, this country has put profits ahead of its people," said Rep. Barbara Lee. "Nowhere is that more apparent than in our Pentagon topline budget."

Jake Johnson ·


UK Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson Resigns Amid Relentless Scandal

"Real change can only come when the Tories are swept away and replaced with a people's government to redistribute wealth and power," said former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jake Johnson ·


Fulton County Subpoenas of Trump Allies Offer Hope 'That Justice Will Ultimately Be Served'

"The coordinated attempts by former President Donald Trump and his associates to discount and ignore the will of Georgian voters during the 2020 election cannot be swept under the rug," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo