by Molly Duerig, Arizona State University
I was ten years old when I truly learned about the value of money. I was sitting in a fifth-grade classroom, listening to Mrs. Krysinski talk about diagramming a sentence or some such thing. A plane soared overhead. I plugged my ears. I put my head down on the desk and covered them.
A couple people sitting at the same table of desks murmured something, but I just sat quiet and waited for it to go away. The plane, the fear. All of it. I didn’t understand how anyone could just sit there after what had just happened. Some weeks before. Nine-eleven.
I still couldn’t explain it, no one could, but we’d all just been slammed with an unlikely level of fear. We were at war, for sure. And although our parents weren’t in danger of being drafted, and we were pretty sure we were “safe,” it seemed that wasn’t fully true anymore. Anything was possible and nothing could be predicted. People you normally trusted, like your parents and teachers and friends, had no idea what was going on and didn’t even pretend to show otherwise.
Flight 93 landed just over an hour’s drive from where I lived most of my life, in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The plane with 44 people crashed in a coal strip mine in Somerset County. The area and the people involved were familiar to me. It was an act of hatred unlike anything I’d ever seen.
I soon found myself questioning everything: the flight path, of course, from Newark, N.J. and almost certainly geared toward the capitol. The plane’s changed trajectory, the people onboard and their lives. Their last questions. And the reasoning behind all of it, which was the most maddening part: I couldn’t fathom it. Why would anyonewant to do this to anyliving being? I’d always been taught there was no reason to hurt anyone else, unless in self-defense. In my safe suburban world, violence was a mostly-absent shadow.
The people on Flight 93 tried to recover the plane from the hijackers, and it was in the struggle that they crashed. They succeeded in diverting that plane from its target. These were truly people thinking of the greater good. The humanity of the world was tied up in that (relatively) small plane.
I remember coming home from school one day and seeing my dad tired, seated on the couch, beer in hand. I remember asking him, all the time, why 9/11 happened. “Oil,” he would say. “Money. Fear.”
He explained to me about Iran’s economic sanctions from the U.S. About the terrorists’ disgust with our rich country, with our support of other rich countries, with our endowed military intervening in countries like Saudi Arabia. We were a threat to them and so they now were a threat to us; it was all a cycle ruled by fear and greed. And ultimately, that greed came down to money.
“But how could money be so important as to destroy so many people in this way?”
He’d laugh. “Molly,” he’d say. “Money rules everything.”
He wasn’t smiling about money, more at my innocent dawn of realization. I really hadn’t known money had that kind of a power over people.
I already knew money was important, of course. I knew we could afford what we needed; my dad’s job as a software engineer was solid and well-paid enough that my mom never had to work. I also knew we couldn’t necessarily go on international vacations or big fancy cruises like some of my classmates (and relatives) could; my dad would usually laugh at the idea. “Those things are a rip-off,” he’d say of all-inclusive vacation packages. I’d sowanted to go somewhere cool with my grandparents on their next excursion: maybe Hawaii, or Australia or Europe! but I never did, in part because the fear spawned by those downed planes kept me land-ridden for the next couple years. I would sit out family trips, fighting my parents tooth and nail, because of my panic about getting on a plane. I would say goodbye to them each time they went off like it was the last.
The total cost of 9/11 has been estimated at over $3 trillion (NYT). But the mental and physical cost is impossible to measure. 2,977 lives were lost, but countless others were forever impacted. Countless people are still counting their psychological and physical losses from a terroristic storm, one that thrived on fear and ultimately arose from places of hatred, greed and self-interest.
Money is the fuel that drives our world. It also contributes to large disputes that can evolve into large human losses. Humans are surprisingly resilient, and overwhelmingly recover from disastrous and traumatic events, albeit with some challenges. But when dollars translate into lost human lives, it reminds you of what’s really important. Perhaps money doesn’t really “make the world go ‘round”?
Molly is a Mass Communications student at Arizona State University Cronkite School.