There’s going to be a lot of September 11th retrospectives today. I’ve already read two that were deeply moving. It’s a galvanizing moment in our history.
But I’ve always felt that our national reaction to September 11th ended up galvanizing us rather the wrong way. We ended up pursuing a path of violence instead of peace. We ended up tearing apart law instead of supporting it. And we didn’t question our nominal leaders.
One thing that has always has to be remembered on these anniversaries is “the other September 11th”: Pinochet’s coup d’etat in 1973, bombing the Presidential palace of Allende and leading to a bloody coup. The two events are of course not entirely analogous. The number of people who actually died on the specific date of 1973 was lower than September 11th, but the best estimates of Pinochet’s death toll are much higher. September 11th was unique in that the guns were pointed from the colonized world to the colonizing world. And while September 11th was a major atrocity, it didn’t plunge a whole society into chaos or change a regime.
Most importantly, the second September 11th was an extraordinary event, while the first was standard operating practice for American empire.
I usually try to be the sanguine and optimistic voice in the room. But sometimes people want to embrace the easy over the difficult. So I think it’s time for a review of what has transpired in the last thirteen years.
It is true that we have seen the US get out of Iraq… but we got ourselves into it. And it’s important to remember that we allowed ourselves to invade a sovereign nation (yes with an evil dictator, one who we had backed and to a large extent even installed) under fraudulent pretenses, and pretenses that were even at the time clearly fraudulent. Despite immense protest, the American people allowed a great crime and act of evil to occur. The invasion of Iraq under Nuremberg should have led to the execution of Bush and many of his cronies.
The Taliban no longer run a country… but they’re still around, and threatening Pakistani stability. Worse, Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet according to Transparency International, with rampant cronyism. Both Iraq and Afghanistan had at best a mixed record thanks to US intervention.
There was some democratization since the invasion of Iraq… but most scholars find that the 2008 recession had quite a lot more to do with that wave of democracy than anything the US did. Worse, we’re seeing that the efforts to democratize in Egypt and Libya are struggling. And we’re seeing that the United States has at best an ambiguous and mixed response when it comes to countries like Egypt in their efforts to democratize (remember: the Mubarak regime was a US client).
ISIS is now a serious threat. We moved from having terror cells operating mostly covertly (with some notable exceptions like the Taliban) to suicide bombing in Iraq and “insurgents” (read: people defending a nation from an illegal invasion) to what seems to be a growing army. ISIS is so brutal that al-Zawahiri has disowned them. ISIS now has tens of thousands of operatives, and it seems that al-Qaeda’s representatives in the region, al-Nusra, has joined ISIS.
The perpetual crisis in Israel and Palestine still continues to trundle along, instead of actually seeing any kind of resolution.
There’s an even greater tragedy, though.
Instead of taking the opportunity to build connections with the world and join the international community more fully, we raised ourselves above it.
Instead of developing empathy and compassion, we allowed extreme neo-conservatives to run many of our institutions for eight years. That lack of empathy and compassion led us to endure a colossal recession. (A recession that, had we not spent so much on the military, we might have had public funds to be able to mitigate or avert).
Instead of learning how to walk the Earth as brother and sisters, we used the very planes and submarines that Dr. King found so unimpressive to kill and maim.
I intend to write an article soon about how the United States has discredited itself so fully that now it is difficult for good-hearted people here to get our military to successfully intervene against ISIS or Russia or any other potential threats.
Global warming is continuing and the world seems to be less safe in many ways than it was thirteen years ago.
It’s incumbent upon us to learn real lessons from September 11th: Violence is not a solution to problems, on the schoolyard or in life; truly being heroic and intervening to aid others requires respect for their autonomy and true love; and our blindness to the pain of others can have immense and catastrophic results.