Columbine, CO — 45-year-old Dresden Bufton gets anxious this time of the year. He spends the week approaching September 11th going through his newspaper clippings and incessantly watching cable news.
“Every year, it’s the same,” said Mr. Bufton speaking from his kitchen table, littered with yellowing newspaper articles about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It impacted me. I watched the whole thing happen on TV, and I’ve never been able to get it out of my mind. It just keeps playing over and over again. Sometimes I can put my thoughts elsewhere, and then it’s OK for a few moments.
In 2001, the then 25-year-old Dresden was working for a business-to-business start-up in San Mateo, CA. He had just crawled out of bed in his San Francisco flat when he heard the newsbreak on NPR.
“I had walked into my front room like I did every morning and turned in CNN. I sat there drinking my coffee. And I can remember every detail. It was Peets Major Dickason’s [blend] in my cup. And I had on the blue velour robe that my friend Kent gave me for my birthday the previous year.”
Mr. Bufton recalls how he had to go into work, even though the news was dire and no one knew if they were safe.
“We all look up all the time. You know, waiting for another plane or a bomb. All the kids were scared. They didn’t understand. Who would target innocent people like that?”
Dresden would later move to Columbine, CO, in 2002 and take a job with a defense contractor building drone weapons used in the War in Afghanistan.
“You feel helpless, you know,” continued Mr. Bufton, looking down at his table. “So I wanted to do something to make a difference. So I decided to join the war effort, of sorts, to help make us safer.”
Bufton doesn’t think about the casualties in the Afghan theater. All he knows is that he’s keeping America safe. So when asked about an April 2021 Brown University report documenting over 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani non-combatant citizens were killed by NATO and coalition forces, Dresden looks puzzled but not alarmed.
“I’ve never heard that number before. I’m sure it’s exaggerated, you know? The fog of war. Propaganda and all that,” Mr. Bufton pauses to consider his following words carefully. “Because I’m positive that we did everything to protect civilians. I mean, that’s why we were there. To liberate Afghanistan. Why would we kill the people we’re trying to free? See, none of this makes any sense.”
The same Brown University study found that the war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health. And that Afghan land is contaminated with unexploded ordnance, which kills and injures tens of thousands of Afghans, especially children, as they travel and go about their daily chores. Much of the mayhem and death was caused by CIA-armed and funded paramilitary and militia groups who carried out atrocities.
“I mean, I guess I should feel bad about all that, but I don’t feel a thing,” said Mr. Bufton looking up at his kitchen clock. “And most of the people I know think about it either. It’s not something that impacts our lives as 9/11 did. If you were to ask me, is an American life worth more than an Afghan life? I’d have to say probably not, but I try not to think about stuff like that.”