I toured with fifth-graders and their parents the other day and we concluded with an evening visit to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial.
(The Pentagon was struck by a commercial jet on that day and 184 people were killed either in the building or on the aircraft.)
With the attack now 16 years ago, it is to those fifth-graders roughly as the Pearl Harbor attack was to me at their age: simply a thread in the fabric of American history which requires context and explanation.
I stick to the facts at hand, probing for their knowledge of 9/11 and then filling in the details they miss and ending with a discussion of the actual memorial.
As we finished up and stood near the bench of the youngest person who died that day, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, a mom asked me if I knew how many people we had killed fighting in the middle east and its environs.
It was a striking and provocative question, taking us far off the well worn groove of the usual commentary.
“Civilians”, I asked, answering that it was probably thousands including scores who died in a US bombing raid in Mosul, Iraq, barely two weeks ago.
She said I should mention that during our talk as it would lend perspective to the memorial.
It’s more likely that patriotic heads would explode and the area would be strewn with stars and stripes shrapnel.
Coincidentally, that was also the day that the train in St. Petersburg, Russia, was attacked killing 14, injuring 60, among them a goodly portion of students, both lending a bit of irony to the moment and highlighting our complicated relationship with Russia.
In light of that coincidence, we should pay quite close attention to the St. Peterburg bombing for it was the work of a radicalized Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic, where ISIS is known to have recruited hundreds of converts.
ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadists readily employ news of the deaths of civilians as a potent tool to energize adherents to strike back against their enemies.
Russia and the US are fighting ISIS though on opposite sides of the Islamic divide: we both are the enemy.
Putin backs Shia and we favor Sunnis, perhaps a difference without distinction where suicide bombers killing students is concerned.
I won’t be working US-caused civilian deaths abroad into my dialogue but it’s a subject that should be on the minds of everyone concerned about reciprocal acts of indiscriminate carnage, whatever their initial intent.
After all, one man’s terror is just another man’s blow for “justice.”