Fire professionals did not deserve ‘keyboard warrior’ outrage on Sept. 11

The 19th century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once quipped, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace of mind.”

We all need to remember this simple truth, sometimes. But a few people should tattoo it on their hands, especially those keyboard warriors who feel compelled to start virtual fights, point digital fingers and express their online discontentment every time something doesn’t go exactly to their liking.

The recent brouhaha over a canceled Camas 9/11 remembrance, which started with keyboard warriors’ uninformed angst and led to fire department officials getting angry calls throughout the day — on Sept. 11, of all days — is an excellent example of a time when people needed to take a deep breath and ask themselves if they wanted a minute of anger or 60 seconds of peace.

A simple reporting error — really, more of a miscommunication between a union representative and a reporter than a true “error” — led to a confusing post on Facebook, which may have made it seem like the fire department and city of Camas had canceled a major 9/11 remembrance ceremony at the last minute because they were “short staffed.”

In reality, the ceremony was never going to be a big event. Firefighters from the local union have regularly volunteered their time to remember the 343 firefighters killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Usually, they host a ceremony in front of the Camas Public Library and invite the mayor or fire chief to say a few words, then have a breakfast afterward. This year’s event, however, on the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was going to be a small, intimate affair. When the union realized they didn’t have enough volunteers — and, yes, some firefighters may have had to work a scheduled shift during the planned remembrance and therefore could not volunteer their time — they canceled the informal event.

The cancellation should never have reflected poorly on firefighters or on fire department leaders. It should have been more of an “Oh, that’s too bad” response.

But, of course, as they are known to do, keyboard warriors blew the whole thing out of proportion. As Fire Chief Nick Swinhart told us late in the afternoon Tuesday, he and other fire department leaders had suffered “significant headaches” throughout Sept. 11 as a result of this blown-out-of-proportion madness.

The fact that people would get upset about a canceled 9/11 ceremony and take it out on fire department officials — on career firefighting professionals who have dedicated their entire lives to helping others — is outrageous, but not entirely unexpected for anyone who has suffered through an online-comment feeding frenzy.

If folks want to direct their anger toward something 9/11-related, we suggest they delve into the costs — financial and human — of the post-9/11 wars that have plagued our nation for 17 years.

According to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, by the end of fiscal year 2018, the average taxpayer in the United States will have spent $23,386 on post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for a total of $5.6 trillion.

What’s more, we aren’t paying outright for these wars. Rather, we’re putting them on credit and paying down the high interest rates. Economist Linda Bilmes coined the term “credit card wars” to describe our strategy of paying — or deferring payment — for the never-ending wars we’ve waged since the tragedy of 9/11.

This means our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be paying for the War on Terror long after we’re gone, and long after the events of 9/11 have become as distant a memory as the sinking of the Lusitania, which helped push our nation into World War I.

Nearly 3,000 people, including more than 400 emergency responders, lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, more than 8,000 soldiers with the U.S.-led forces have lost their lives fighting an often vague enemy. Estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, due to our nation’s never-ending War on Terror, range from around 200,000 to nearly one million.

If there’s anything worth getting angry about, it’s the horrific costs of our country’s post-9/11 wars. But keyboard warriors never seem to care about the bigger picture. Why would they when it’s far easier to rage online for a few minutes before carrying on with their day, completely unaffected by the distress they’re causing others?

The local firefighting professionals who suffered “significant headaches” from keyboard warriors Tuesday deserved so much better, especially on a day meant for mourning their lost brothers and sisters.

We hope to hear from the fire chief that they have since been flooded with real-life apologies.