Summary: Some of the “great battles” were nothing of the kind. This is easily seen by comparing them with a truly great battle, one that looks to have decisive effects: 9-11.
For centuries western historians described the Battle of Tours (aka Poitiers) as one of the world’s decisive battles. One of the battles that changed the world, stopping the advance of Islam into Christendom. More accurately seen, Tours provides an important milestone in history, not stopping but marking the point of Islam’s furthest reach. Of course the people of 732 did not realize its significance.
We can learn much by comparing the skirmish at Tours with a truly decisive military operation: al Qaeda’s attack on 9-11-2001. Although the damage done was trivial to a rich nation of 300 millions, its effects were immense. Like Tours, we do not see the milestone we have passed: the apogee of America.
America was a beacon attracting the youth of Islam cultures. 9-11 sparked invasions of Moslem nations and rising anti-Islam bigotry, dimming that light.
In response the national security apparatus (domestic and foreign) — already far larger than that of any other nation — began its vast growth, a parasite absorbing nutrients desperately needed elsewhere (e.g., our rotting infrastructure) — funded by loans from potentially hostile nations (e.g., China, OPEC).
Foreign wars and the cancer-like growth of Homeland Security absorbed more than money. Managing them consumed much of the attention of our government’s leaders (astonishingly, leaders at all levels). One of our scarcest resources is the mindspace — aka mental bandwidth — of citizens and leaders. Coping with so many critical problems (especially the two recessions since 9-11) at best would have been difficult; 9-11 meant that none received adequate attention. We cannot calculate the cost of lost opportunities for reform, except to see that delaying has allowed many problems to fester.
The most important effect of 9-11
The 9-11 attack broke the spirit of America. Fear and paranoia rule, a cowardly people abandoning the Constitution in hope of greater security. Citizens blindly believing any lie the government tells. Every airport a display of security theater, a testimony that Americans have become sheep. We spiral down towards a fate we cannot see. Fascism, plutocracy, or tyranny? Something ugly, for sure.
We can hope for a second battle that will reverse the effects of 9-11. But it will be fought at home, among ourselves. First in each of our hearts, seeking the will to act.
“They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.”
— From the title page of An Historical review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (1759); written by Richard Jackson and published by Benjamin Franklin
For more information
See Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?