Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Changed Everything. And Nothing.

In the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks Americans have been drowned with reminders of that fateful day. For over a week leading up to the anniversary USA Today ran a series of front-page stories entitled “How 9/11 Changed America.”

Americans have been told that they cannot forget 9/11. The implication is that Americans should not forget about the ghastly images from that day or how they felt. But this is a silly statement.

No can forget 9/11 because no one is allowed to. 9/11 is a part of daily American life. Anyone who flies in a US airport is reminded of the terrorist attacks. Take off your shoes. No liquids. Assume the position.

China-made American flags are still ubiquitous. The obligatory singing of “God Bless America” is as much a part of baseball games as arguing with the umpire and American soldiers are given public spectacles of reverence that are perhaps only outdone in their vacuity by parades in communist countries. Who could possibly forget?

Among the more unreflective clich├ęs that emerged from the attacks was “9/11 Changed Everything.” This was government propaganda because terrorism was neither a new tactic of war nor was Islam a new religion. It reminds one of what Cicero said, "To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child."

A friend recently told me that he had asked his wife if she knew why the terrorist attack happened. She said she didn’t know and had never really thought about it. My friend was surprised but I wasn’t. It’s not that his wife is an ignoramus but most Americans haven’t thought about it. Nor have they been encouraged to do so.

Not a few days after the attack did President Bush get out in front and declare this wasn’t “our” fault and that the terrorists only hate us for our freedoms. He admonished the American people not to dwell upon it. He said, Don’t worry. We who failed so spectacularly on 9/11 will take care of everything. As for you, go shopping. It was an explanation so simplistic and convenient that it shouldn’t have worked on third graders but the American people obeyed without question.

The eventual execution of Osama bin Laden crystallized the so-called post-9/11 world. When the news of bin Laden’s death came, people in the streets and in sports stadiums chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” But what were they celebrating? The war wasn’t over. Troops weren’t coming home any sooner than scheduled. The one behind the attacks was dead but everything remained exactly the same. What does it say when the death of Public Enemy #1 amounts to nothing?

When Navy SEAL Team 6 got bin Laden they took pictures which were not released and they buried the body quickly. In retrospect, it’s almost like the death never happened.

In May, I theorized that the burial happened that way so the national security state could continue as before with few questions asked. In what should have been an ideal time to consider dismantling at least parts of the national security bureaucracy, the speedy burial meant the resumption of “normalcy” regarding the post-9/11 world. No one asked, Why, if all it took was a unit of well-trained soldiers to track down bin Laden, were large armies stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq? Indeed, things would go on as before.

That is the legacy of September 11, 2001.

Everything changed and nothing changed.

When Osama bin Laden was found hiding in plain sight in Pakistan and there were zero consequences for Pakistan's duplicity, that should have exposed once and for all the sham of what Washington has done in the so-called post-9/11 world.

With apologies to country music singer Darryl Worley, no, we have not forgotten. If only we could.