[This is an updated version of a post I made five years ago.]
Ten years ago a terrorist organization executed an 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 these 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 not significant.
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 really hurt us. But you have made us angry, and we are going to find you, and we are going to 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.
But 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. The Bush administration moved quickly and delightedly to turn our fear to their advantage. And thus the 9/11 attacks became, at the hands of those filthy, despicable traitors, a devastating attack on this country.
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 the Republicans needed for their own plans. Bush wanted the same thing bin Laden did: a world ruled by the wealthiest, the most violent, the most religious, the biggest liars. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more than twice as many Americans as did the 9/11 attacks – not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. They also cost us over three trillion dollars, which crippled the economy, causing much even more death and suffering.
President Obama, seemingly a very different kind of person, could have ended these wars. Yet, he chose to prolong them.
There is nothing to celebrate here, nothing to be proud of, nothing to commemorate. The sad, ugly story should have been over in a few years – but there is reason to fear that 9/11 was a tipping point from which we may never recover. Now we have a Department of Homeland Security (just as the Nazis did), and no politician dares vote to dissolve it. Now we have indefinite detention, in hideous prisons where they hold innocent people for no reason and torture them just for fun, and the president says he will close them, and he does not close them, and no one is even surprised. This is the legacy of 9/11, which for this immense and powerful country should have been nothing but a sting, but instead is crushing its very soul, because that’s what the men who hold the power want.