You may not know that there’s a memorial planned for the global war on terror. This would be understandable, since the global war on terror is like a toy that America was obsessed with for a short period of time and then grew tired of and has forgotten under the bed. To extend the metaphor, this would be the type of toy that continuously explodes and has killed millions of people.
President Donald Trump signed legislation approving the memorial back in 2017. The bill created an exception to the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, which requires the passage of at least 10 years after the official end of a war before a memorial to it can be constructed in Washington, D.C. That was obviously unworkable regarding the global war on terror, which is tentatively scheduled to conclude five billion years from now when the sun expands and engulfs the Earth.
There’s no design yet, but the foundation funding the memorial is conducting a public survey for ideas now through October 17. It includes questions such as:
You’ll note that none of the options are such emotions as “rage-filled sorrow” or “the urge to prosecute war criminals.” Given this, you may not be surprised to learn that the honorary chair of the foundation is George W. Bush, who happens to be the president who birthed the global war on terror with the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The foundation’s funders include 7-Eleven, Amazon, and Baker Botts, a powerhouse Texas law firm named after James Baker, secretary of state for the first George Bush.
However, one of the survey’s final questions is, “Do you have any comments or additional notes for the GWOT Memorial Foundation to consider?” This is a great opportunity to submit some suggestions for the foundation to ignore.
A recent estimate by the Costs of War project at Brown University found that over 4.5 million people have died thanks to the direct and indirect effects of conflict in post-9/11 war zones. Of these, about 10,000, or 0.22 percent, are Americans (including those who died on September 11, 2001, or during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars).
The global war on terror memorial will be located on the National Mall near the memorial to the Vietnam War, which lists the names of over 58,000 American dead. It might be nice to do the same kind of thing here but include the names of everyone from every country who died thanks to the global war on terror. This would require a monument about 75 times bigger than the one for Vietnam.
The downside of this idea is that it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. It’s true it’s not literally impossible, but it’s more likely that we will change the U.S. national bird from the bald eagle to the rose-breasted grosbeak, which is sexually nonbinary.
The Costs of War project has also calculated that the price of the global war on terror has been about $6 trillion so far, and we’ll have to spend another $2 trillion on care for veterans in the future, for an eventual total of $8 trillion. This sounds like a lot, but consider that it is only one one-millionth of $8 quintillion.
Some of this money was essentially set on fire and has disappeared. But a lot of it is still here in the U.S., in particular in the lovely suburbs surrounding the Defense Department in northern Virginia. Since the global war on terror memorial is going to be right by Arlington Memorial Bridge, there could be complementary bus trips across the Potomac, allowing visitors to gape at all the mansions, $180,000 Range Rovers, and, more recently, luxury pickleball courts they purchased for defense contractors. (From a distance, obviously — any regular people who get too close will experience an immediate armed response.)
Remember when George W. Bush’s CIA briefers gave him a presentation on August 6, 2001, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”? And part of it warned that the FBI had information that “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings”? And other warnings his administration received were titled “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” and “Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks”? And how Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA whether Al Qaeda might be pretending to be about to attack America just to fool us into expending resources in response?
I hope you do remember this, because the way this didn’t matter in U.S. politics makes me feel as though I am experiencing the Mandela effect, a name for a phenomenon in which people have specific false memories. For instance, lots of Americans apparently believe the comedian Sinbad starred in a movie called “Shazaam” in the 1990s. I don’t remember that, but I definitely do remember Bush and Co. being criminally incompetent.
In any case, if all this did happen, it seems like the kind of thing we might want to highlight at a memorial about the ensuing worldwide war. But I don’t think the memorial’s honorary chair is really up for that.
Back in 2004, at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Bush joshed about looking for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office, since they hadn’t turned up anywhere else. This was funny because his WMD claims were the basis for his invasion of Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.
At the same event six years later, in 2010, President Barack Obama kidded about killing the Jonas Brothers with a Predator drone. Again, the joke here is that Obama murdered American citizens with drones and, according to a 2013 book, told aides that “I’m really good at killing people.”
Maybe these two videos could play continuously at the global war on terror memorial so everyone will realize there’s no reason we can’t have some fun with this whole thing. Let’s reach under the bed, grab this old toy, and build a memorial that shows our kids how we did pointless ultraviolence back in the day.