Summary: On 9-11 al Qaeda changed America in ways we refuse to see. We’ve helped set the Middle East aflame and given up important rights, both processes still continuing. On this anniversary of that sad day let’s try for a clearer understanding of what happened and what we did afterwards. The price will be high for our failure to do so. But it’s not too late to start.
“The purpose of an action is the reaction.”
— Said by RJH in a comment.
On this day fourteen years ago, with a single strike al Qaeda changed the course of America and perhaps the world. We are the world’s hegemonic state, by many measures the most powerful nation (relative to its time) that the world has ever seen. Al Qaeda did this at a negligible cost in money and manpower. Never have so few changed the lives of so many with so little effort.
9-11 was not the usual kind of decisive battle, where thousands fight to determine the fate of nations. This is a dozen guys with box cutters deliberately setting out to change the course of a nation – and succeeding. The multiple of force to effect is astonishing, beyond anything I have seen in history.
The 9-11 terrorists were “super-empowered individuals” not because of what they did — planes often crash, buildings often burn, then life goes on — but because of what we did afterwards. The leverage on history came not from their actions but from our reaction.
Since 9-11 the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of America and its allies have damaged (probably crippled) al Qaeda, but its leaders see al Qaeda as the vanguard of the jihadist movement, not its body — and so perhaps expendable. They might consider its destruction a small price to pay for what it accomplished: starting the long war with America that has drained its resources, corrupted its soul, and turned many of the Islamic community against the West.
Effects of 9-11
Al Qaeda manipulated America as a matador works a bull, waving a cape to so that the bull charges into position to meet the thrust of his sword. 9/11 altered the course of America, both its evolution as a society and its relationship with the world. These changes are almost certainly inimical to our long-term strength and prosperity.
Bush Jr. responded to 9-11 with large scale initiatives at home and overseas: militarization of our foreign policy, massive erosion of civil liberties (see this ACLU study), and cancerous growth of the US military and security agencies. Our foreign adventures helped set the Middle East aflame, with civil wars still burning in the nations we invaded and occupied and in those we’ve bombed. Al Qaeda has been replaced by a more virulent and extreme group, The Islamic State.
The massive growth of the secret security services has altered our society in ways difficult to see, as they watch and probably affect domestic protests such as Occupy and those against police violence.
The Obama Administration institutionalized these changes. They have become bipartisan policies, which makes them almost impossible to change. As we see today, with most of the major candidates in both parties supporting them.
It has been 14 years, and still the long-term consequences of 9/11 remain difficult to see. They’ll continue to reverberate and spread until we decide to confront our actions since that day in New York. The longer we wait, the greater the damage to America, and to the nations we fight.
For More Information
For a better perspective on 9/11 see…
- Tom Engelhardt’s “Let’s Cancel 9/11 – Bury the War State’s Blank Check at Sea”.
- “The Lies They Told“ — a NYT review of The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 by John Farmer.
- One of the best articles about 9-11: “Orwell, 9/11, Emmanuel Goldstein and WikiLeaks“ by Glenn Greenwald at Salon — “The decade since the attack provides a vivid museum exhibit for how state propaganda functions.”
- About our cowardly domestic response to 9-11 (esp compared to other nations): “We refuse to live in fear!” by Glenn Greenwald at Salon — “The rhetoric of yesterday’s anniversary illustrates leaders’ hypocrisy in their responses to the attacks.”
- “The meaning of political rituals like 9/11 Day” by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.
As so often true during these Crazy Years, the most powerful insights come from humor: “9/11 Anniversary Marked By Confused Looks, Awkward Questions From Junior Military Members” — “We were attacked on 9/11 by a group of Saudis, Emiratis, and a Lebanese, led by an Egyptian. Which is why we’re at war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.”
- Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?
- Thoughts about 9-11-01 by Rebecca Solnit.
- The vital things to know about 9-11, painful and so seldom mentioned today.
- About the mysteries of the 9-11 attack.