on CNN. As I watched, she and all our children climbed in the bed to see what was
happening. The first plane had already hit the World Trade Center. My entire family was
watching as the second plane hit; and clearly, this was being done on purpose. There was
little conversation, the silence broken by my wife's voice declaring that the children were
staying home from school. For the next thirteen hours I watched the coverage with at least
one child either on my knee or sitting very close. I left for work wondering what could be
said about such a disastrous moment in our history. I'm still wondering eight years later.
After so many hours of continued coverage and analysis, the initial shock finally
wore off. The "what" was clear, but the "why" was not. I asked the question that night
on my radio show. I consulted an expert on world and Islamic affairs. I invited comments
or thoughts about why this had occurred. My bosses went ballistic. I was told I was
committing career suicide. It was the wrong question to ask. It was the wrong time to ask
it. Didn't anyone care why? To suggest that American foreign policy could have been one
of the triggers was "...traitorous and unpatriotic talk". Eight years later "why" is still
a much debated question. Eight years later reaction to the "what" is still being analyzed.
Eight years later the question "Are we any safer?" is still being posed. Eight years later
the question about whether we've changed as a nation is being raised and debated. Eight
years later my children are grown, our economy is in shambles, our constitution is shredded
and we have lost vast amounts of blood and treasure. Why?
I understand bin Laden's reasons. American forces were in Saudi Arabia
desecrating Islam's holiest sites, and Western culture offends his medieval fundamentalist
view (a similar view held by fundamentalist Christians and Jews). He succeeded in causing
an instance of terror, but he wanted something more. He wanted to weaken us. He wanted
to weaken us at a place his bombs could not reach. By attacking the U.S., bin Laden knew
we would turn inward and cannibalize each other. He knew we would suspect each other.
He knew that Americans are easily frightened and would agree to anything to feel safe,
including turning on fellow citizens. He knew we would be at each other's throats; and
he was right. He knew us better than we knew ourselves.
Thousands of American Muslims and others were arrested and denied all their
civil liberties. They were held without charges, without access to an attorney, and the
right of habeas corpus was thrown out. From all these post-911 arrests, not a single
terrorism conviction was obtained. Our national leaders seized upon the fears of average
Americans to get support for a piece of legislation, The Patriot Act, that eviscerated the
Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. While Congress
was passing any law our leaders proposed, those same leaders (signatories to The Project
for a New American Century) authorized the NSA to begin warrantless spying and
surveillance. The FBI was tasked to use national security letters, illegally, to cover up
investigations and the seizure of records including the books you took out of the library.
(One of the most amazing untold stories is how American librarians resisted the
government's intrusion into your privacy. They were real American heroes.) When
voices were raised in protest, the speakers were drowned out by cries of "...traitor,
subversive, unpatriotic, soft-on-terrorism". Bin Laden knew Americans would accept
a dictatorship and the destruction of the Constitution as long as they were promised
safety. He was right. For about $500,000, bin Laden was able to get us to do what he
could never accomplish by his own hands...weaken the nation.
In the ensuing eight years, September 11th was used as an excuse to start an
unnecessary war, expand government intrusion into our privacy, run up deficits of
enormous proportions, and re-elect the architects of these and many other disastrous
policies. September 11th was used to justify torture in violation of both domestic law
and international treaties. September 11th was used to keep the American people
frightened and compliant. September 11th was used to make a disastrous foreign policy
palatable and to sell the American people on a path which led to the destruction of
America's image throughout the world. As the anniversary of 9/11 passes, the only way
we can honor those who gave their lives serving their country and the hundreds of
thousands killed by our military adventurism is to learn some lessons from this event.
So, exactly what have we learned, if anything?
It seems clear now that the attack on September 11th never threatened the
existence of this nation. The freedom of Americans was never threatened by al Qaeda.
No outside force could ever conquer this nation. The real danger to our freedom of
speech, freedom of association, and freedom from unwarranted government intrusion
comes from "us" not "them". The constitutional basis for our republic is weaker today
than it was on September 10th, 2001. The free press, envisioned as vital to our democracy
by the founding fathers, failed us completely in the aftermath of September 11th. Actually,
to be fair, the corporate media failed us. Alternative media and press raised alarms,
sounded warnings, printed information ignored by the corporate media, and were
summarily dismissed as irrelevant, immaterial, and "...haters of all that is American".
Our system of checks and balances completely failed after September 11th.
Congress proved itself incapable of protecting us from our worst natures. Democrats
and Republicans rolled over and played dead in the face of an executive branch determined
to expand it's power and influence. The Judiciary turned a blind eye to Constitutional
violations so egregious as to warrant criminal investigations. A nation based on the rule
of law became a nation of lawlessness and abuse of power.
The cliche is: "Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat the
same mistakes." If we are hit again, have we learned anything or would we be easily
frightened again and willing to water down our rights and even more protections? If
terrorists attack again, will the corporate media amplify our fears or report honestly
and responsibly? Is Congress any better prepared to stand up to irrational fear today
than it was eight years ago? Would President Obama react differently than President
On the night of September 11th, 2001 I asked "why" this horrible event had
happened. I asked "why" innocent people and heroic firefighters and police had to die.
In the weeks and months and years that followed, I asked if there were any policies or
programs instituted by our government which could have provoked such a brutal act
of terrorism? Reaction to this question continues to be mixed, but in the end questions
like these must be asked. Eight years later, are we any closer to understanding how it is
a single terrorist incident could have such devastating aftereffects on the richest and most
powerful nation on earth? Eight years later, we haven't captured bin Laden; and we are
still involved in two wars. Eight years later, young Americans are still being asked to die.
Eight years later, do you have any confidence there will be a constitution left if we get
hit again? Eight years later, will Americans stand up to fear-mongering and defend their
country from the enemies within? Eight years ago we learned that the myth of the rugged
individual, the myth of the resilient American, the myth of the hardy pioneers able to
withstand all threats were just that...myths. Eight years ago Americans were stampeded
like sheep by an enemy who wanted to sow seeds of terror and division. Perhaps it is
time to teach our children a new way. What shall it be? What do you think? I welcome
your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org