Summary: Ignore the self-pitying blather you will hear today. Al Qaeda scored one of the biggest wins in history on 9-11. They spent almost nothing and lured America onto the path to new destiny. Since then, we have set the Middle East aflame and burned up important rights at home, with no end in sight to either fires. On this 18th anniversary of 9/11, let’s learn from our mistakes and begin the long process of repairing the damage we have done to America. They need not win.
“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.”
— From DuffelBlog, one of America’s few reliable source of insight.
How will future Americans see our time?
“He [VP Cheney] would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. … We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.”
— UK PM Tony Blair in his memoir A Journey: My Political Life.
What will 8th grade history textbooks in the 23rd century say about our time? Centuries strip away the trivia, showing future generations the key events of the past. For example, the events at Runnymede on 15 June 1215 seemed of little import to that generation. On August 24 the Pope declared the Baron’s agreement with King John invalid, the next month King John repudiated it, and it was one of a series of such compacts. Yet Magna Carta remained influential, and lives to this day.
I suspect that many prominent events, such as the Vietnam War, will be forgotten. Some, like the moon landing, will get brief mention (noteworthy, but of no significance in history). Children will learn only about those events proven to be inflection points. 9/11 will be prominently mentioned. It was one of the most effective single military operations in the history of the world, and probably the most cost-effective military operation ever (details here).
How 9/11 changed the world
“The purpose of an action is the reaction.”
— Said by RJH in a comment.
On this day eighteen years ago al Qaeda changed the course of history. It was not a decisive battle in the traditional sense, where thousands fight to determine the fate of nations. Al Qaeda sent 19 men with box cutters in an attack to manipulate America, just as a matador manipulates a giant bull with a cape and his superior mind.
The 9-11 terrorists were “super-empowered individuals” not because of what they did – planes often crash and buildings often burn, then life goes on – but because of what we did after the attack. Their leverage on history came not from their actions but from our reaction. America’s long war has drained its resources, corrupted its soul, diverted attention from desperately need reforms, and turned many in the Islamic community against the West.
Our counter-strikes have almost destroyed al Qaeda, but its leaders may see al Qaeda as the vanguard of their movement, not its body – and hence expendable. Al Qaeda’s leaders might have deliberately or by miscalculation used it as a kamikaze against the West. We can only guess.
What has the Long War done to America?
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886).
The damage to our long-term strength and prosperity has only begun to appear. Our foreign adventures helped set the Middle East aflame, as we invaded Afghanistan (because of the big lie) and Iraq (more lies), joined the Saudi’s war in Yemen, and helped destabilize Libya and Syria. Africom prepares to involve us in still more civil wars.
At home the cancerous growth of the security services have eroded away our civil rights (see this ACLU study) and altered our society in ways difficult to see.
Obama institutionalized Bush Jr.’s policies, making them bipartisan policies. That makes them almost impossible to change. Trump promised reforms, but has preferred instead to tweet.
9/11 put America on a new path; nobody can see its end.
“The principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me: You can multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; a smaller person can use the strength of a bigger one against him. Jump to 9-11-01 and its aftermath. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke – that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.”
— Tom Engelhardt in a TomDispatch.
The consequences of 9/11 will continue to ripple out through America and the world until we decide to confront our actions since that day. We hide these grim truths about the long war with lies. The longer we wait, the greater the damage to America.
For More Information
- 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 — Articles questioning the standard story.
- Death celebrates 9-11. Can we stop and think before we walk further along the road of terror? — “The Uses of al-Qaida” by Richard Seymour.
- Bin Laden won, with our assistance. Our applause shows the scale of his victory. — About “Zero Dark Thirty”.
- It’s not too late to learn from 9/11. But soon it will be.
Books to help you more clearly see our America.
All that has changed since Tom Englehardt wrote these books is that we have accepted the new America as our America.
The United States of Fear (2011).