Many epithets describe Osama Bin Laden, but rapist fits best. On September 11, 2001, Bin Laden orchestrated what was, in effect, the gang rape of the United States. We were violated and that explains why America’s recovery has been so difficult.
Rape is a horrific fact of life in the US, where more than 600 women are violated each day and 1 in 6 females have been subjected to sexual assault. It’s not a new phenomenon; for 2500 years rape has been a continuing theme in Western culture. In Greek mythology Persephone was violated by Hades and dragged into the underworld.
Bin Laden’s assault was war rape, an act intended to inflict long-lasting trauma, “to humiliate the enemy and undermine their morale.” His intent was both psychological and financial.
Bin Laden planned to destroy three preeminent American symbols: the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and White House. The latter was saved when brave flight 93 passengers caused the hijacked plane to crash.
Bin Laden intended to bankrupt the US and came close to accomplishing his objective. The direct cost of the attacks was more than $200 Billion. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.3 percent and the estimated loss by US stocks was $1.4 Trillion.
President Bush never understood what Bin Laden was up to. In response to the attacks, Bush initiated his ill-conceived “war” on terror. According to the Congressional Research Service this cost “$1.283 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.” Bush created the behemoth Department of Homeland Security, which some experts estimate cost another $1 trillion. But the actual cost was much more, as these estimates do not include expenses such as illness caused by the collapse of the twin towers or Iraq/Afghanistan war injuries, billions more. (Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the Iraq war, alone, cost $3 Trillion.)
When Bill Clinton left office, before 9/11, the US public debt was $5.73 trillion and the US economy was strong. When George W. Bush left office, after 9/11, the debt was $10.7 trillion and the economy was staggering.
Bin Laden intended to fracture America’s spirit and sap our will to fight.
2977 died in the attacks. In the days and months after 9/11, many New York City rescue workers, as well as residents and employees who returned to the financial district prematurely, suffered a variety of respiratory problems. There was a high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.” After 9/11 19 percent of those “directly exposed” to the attacks suffered from PTSD. (By way of comparison, 18 percent of women subjected to sexual assault suffer from PTSD.)
Americans, in general, were traumatized by 9/11. Anyone who watched videos of the attack or saw the towers collapse would characterize it as a “terrifying event.” Many citizens continue to have PTSD symptoms such as “intense fear,” “helplessness,” “numbness,” “depression,” “isolation,” and “lack of trust.”
The problem for rape survivors is that after their attacker is apprehended the trauma persists. Osama Bin Laden was killed, but Americans continue to suffer. In his May 1st announcement, President Barack Obama tacitly acknowledged this with a call for “unity” and a gentle suggestion that we look forward: “we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to… whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values...”
But the bitter reality is that America was gang raped and has suffered the traumatic after-effects for ten years. On May 1st, we killed the perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, but this won’t heal our wounds. It won’t bring back the 2977 that died or heal the lungs of the first responders who toiled in the wreckage of the Twin Towers or cure the millions who have PTSD. And it won’t repay the billions we spent to find Bin Laden or repair our fractured economy. (And it won’t bring back the thousands of soldiers who died or suffered devastating injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
In 1934, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
Americans cannot change the past. We’ve killed Bin Laden but that alone won’t heal us. Now Americans must acquire the courage to make the changes we can make: rebuild our battered psyches and our economy.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org