Five years ago an actual terrorist organization executed an actual terrorist attack inside the United States. They sent hijacked airliners crashing into two colossal office towers in downtown Manhattan. Another plane hit the Pentagon building; a fourth, possibly on its way to Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania. Everyone on all four planes died (including, of course, the hijackers). The World Trade Center towers were utterly destroyed. The Pentagon was damaged. About three thousand people died.

The contemptible men who planned this attack wanted to be seen as having injured, not “just” thousands of people, not “just” several extremely expensive buildings, but the United States of America, or even Western civilization. Of course such megalomania is ludicrous. Oh it was a tragedy. Absolutely. But you cannot bring down the United States with such a feeble gesture. This is a country of 300 million people. We have by a huge margin the world’s most robust economy and the world’s most powerful military. Considered as an act of war, 9/11 was hardly decisive.

We could have said to those self-styled revolutionaries: Fuck you. You could do a thing like that every month and we would still survive it. You cannot hurt us. Even so, we will find you, and we will utterly wipe you out. A few years from now, no one will even remember your names.

That’s what we should have said. It would have been proud and brave. And it would have limited the hurt. It would have made 9/11 a small wound, painful but small, like the welt from a rubber bullet, that stings like a motherfucker but will certainly heal by itself.

That did not happen. Luckily for the terrorists, the 9/11 attacks became an excuse for our elected leaders to impose their private agenda on this country. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rove moved quickly to turn our fear to their advantage. And thus the 9/11 attacks became, at the hands of those despicable traitors, a devastating attack on the United States of America.

The terrorists wanted to hurt us deeply and permanently. Their plan should not have worked, would not have harmed us terribly, except that 9/11 was just what Bush needed for his own plans. He wants many of the same things the terrorists do. Though nominally opposed, each side has benefited from the other, and both have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.