Teaching Billy About 9/11
On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, John Smith and his young son looked up from West Broadway in Lower Manhattan towards where the World Trade Centre towers once stood.
JOHN. This is it. You remember those photos of the towers I showed you? Try to imagine it. This is where they were. All those people in those buildings. It's a sad day.
JOHN. You can see what's going up here now. It took them so long. But that's the way it works, Billy. It takes a long time to build something. You can destroy something in an instant, kid.
BILLY. Like when I built a sandcastle on the beach and then later I kicked it over because I got bored.
JOHN. Yeah. Something like that. But the people who did it weren't just bored.
BILLY. I heard they were Muslims in Al Keeda who did this.
JOHN. Al Qaeda. That's true.
BILLY. Are all Muslims like that?
JOHN. Certainly not. Most Muslims would never do something like this. But it's not just Al Qaeda that's out there. The truth is that there were plenty of Muslims who cheered when those towers came down; some live right here in America.
BILLY. Why did they do it, daddy?
JOHN. Because they hate us.
BILLY. Because we did something to them?
JOHN. Not really. Some people will tell you that. But it's not really true.
BILLY. Then why?
JOHN. Well... Let's see. You remember that time you came home from school one day with a black eye? Jeez. Mom and I nearly went crazy that day.
BILLY. When Tommy and those mean boys hit me in the schoolyard.
JOHN. Yeah. You remember why they picked on you?
BILLY. They pick on lots of kids. Tommy said I looked at him funny but I didn't. I never looked at him or anything.
JOHN. Are you sure? You never hit him first? Or picked on him?
BILLY. No way! I saw what happened when Mike tried to bug Tommy back and Tommy and his friends just hurt him more. I stayed away from Tommy.
JOHN. I know. Sometimes kids like that have their own issues. I know Tommy's parents. I know that house -- I used to live around there when I was growing up. It's a bad part of town. And that's a hard family to grow up in.
Anyway, it makes those kids feel better, feel stronger, to pick on others. You didn't do anything to make Tommy and those boys hate you. They just needed a victim. You were it.
And when those dumb school administrators wouldn't do anything, we got you into a new school. You like your new school, by the way?
BILLY. Yeah, I guess. So, the people who attacked America -- Al Keeda? They had bad mommies and daddies?
JOHN. It's a little more complicated. The people who flew those planes into those buildings were grown-ups like me.
Kids are kids. Sometimes, when they do bad things, it's because they don't know any better. They can't control themselves.
But grown-ups can do what they want. If I punched you in the eye like Tommy did, I'd go to jail -- and rightly so. Because I'd be responsible. I couldn't tell the judge I had a bad day or I was feeling cranky because I skipped lunch or you forgot to clean your room. I'm an adult. I'm responsible for what I do.
BILLY. So those Al Keeda people were grown-ups but they hit America just because they hated us? They should go to jail.
JOHN. Well... yeah.
BILLY. But why do they hate us so much?
JOHN. Most of these people come from places where hate is normal. It's not like here. Their parents, their teachers, their spiritual leaders, sometimes the 11 'o' clock news, they all believe their God tells them to hate us. That their God tells them they must fight us. So they crashed their planes into our buildings.
BILLY. Does God hate us?
JOHN. No, Billy. If there's a God, I'm sure he doesn't hate us.
BILLY. These people are stupid.
JOHN. Yes, but even stupid people can be dangerous.
BILLY. Are these Al Keeda people going to come back and do it again?
JOHN. They've tried. They and their friends keep hitting everyone around them. 19,250 times since the towers came down, actually.
BILLY. Nineteen thousand two hundred... is that a big number?
JOHN. Yes, son. It's really big.
BILLY. Well, if we just tell them we believe in their God will they leave everyone alone?
JOHN. I don't think so. It's more than just believing in their God. If we really wanted them to stop trying to get us, we'd have to change all kinds of things.
First of all, I'd have to quit my job at the museum. Most of the stuff in there, everything from the dinosaurs to that copy of the American Declaration of Independence, our new friends wouldn't like any of it. They'd just burn that place to the ground. We would have to start praying five times a day, at least..."
BILLY. That's a lot of praying. It sounds boring.
JOHN. Yeah, it would be. Let's see, what else. Your mother could never leave the house unless I let her, or unless you were with her when you grew up. But she'd always have to be all covered up in a burqa, you know, that long black flowing... ah, there's one. See that nice lady over there?
BILLY. Mom would have to dress like that?
JOHN. Yup. Your sister, too. We'd have to take her out of school, of course. And since your sister is about to turn 12, we'd probably need to marry her off to your cousin Frank.
JOHN. Sure. Well, that's how the folks who like Al Qaeda tend to do things.
BILLY. That's crazy.
JOHN. I know. But you asked what it would take for them to leave us alone. There's more.
BILLY. What else?
JOHN. Well, you can forget about hanging out any more with your buddy, Ranjeet, from your soccer team. I'm pretty sure he's Hindu. And Ron Gershman -- he's Jewish, right? Well, we'd just have to kill him.
BILLY. Kill him?
JOHN. Sure, no Jews allowed in an Al Qaeda-friendly America. If we didn't chop his head off, someone would have to.
BILLY. But Ron's one of my best friends!
JOHN. That's a really tough break for Ron. But we're not done.
Where were we? No Jews. No Christians, either. No Christmas. No Valentine's Day. No St. Patrick's Day.
No music. No parties. No fun. No freedom.
BILLY. This sound horrible. I don't want to live like that.
JOHN. Well, the people who root for Al Qaeda say that if you don't want to live like them, then you should die.
BILLY. So we can't make friends with these people?
JOHN. Not if we want to live the way we do.
BILLY. I don't want to live like them. Can't we stop these people?
JOHN. We're trying, son. We're really trying.
Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist