Monday, September 21, 2009

A Nation of Sheep

Eight years ago on September 11th I was awakened by my wife and told to turn

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


  1. Love that particular diatribe Bernie. You are so correct that we are easily manipulated with fear.

  2. This is the time in history when I found you on KGO, when I knew yours was a sane voice ... someone asking these necessary questions when no one else was. I knew you would find your voice again Bernie. Right ON as usual. Michele