Post-9/11: An Opportunity Squandered
To paraphrase the old American Express TV commercial, “A case
of box-cutters: $40; 19 airline tickets: $3,648; bringing down the greatest country the world has
ever seen: Priceless.”
I know what you’re probably thinking. What a horrible thing to say. Am I implying that the terrorists of 9/11 won? No. What I am saying is that our now decade-old “War on Terror” has changed our country and not for the better.
Look around you. Doesn’t it seem like other countries are laughing behind our backs as we wallow in economic futility and political bickering? What happened? They used to be our allies.
In the days following 9/11, our country was as united as it has ever been. These days, it feels as if there is a Civil War-style divide going on, at least among the people who are supposed to represent us.
In the days following 9/11, our allies around the world wanted to know what they could do to help. When we said we wanted them to help us invade Afghanistan and Iraq, they agreed. That’s how much confidence our allies had in us that we would do the right and moral thing.
“With the rubble of the Twin Towers not yet cleared, our country went to war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq,” said Howard Gordon in an essay on the influence of 9/11 on films and popular culture. “These conflicts became battlefields in the more nebulous ‘War on Terror,’ which gave rise to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to laws expanding surveillance of our citizens, and to the Blackwater phenomenon of privatized warfare. As much as they may have defended our national security, these responses to 9/11 also threw into question whether America truly occupied the moral high ground that most of us had taken for granted.”
One of the more shameful trends of post 9/11 America is the way we now consider going to war as some sort of “business as usual” affair. It used to be a big deal to send our military men and women into harm’s way. People at home made sacrifices. The media gave it the proper attention it deserved.
These days, we take it for granted that the poorest Americans will continue to send their sons and daughters into the military because of the possibility of them getting an education and learning useful skills that will propel them into the middle class. It’s a gamble, of course. They might come home in a flag-draped coffin or physically or mentally maimed.
“I think the hardest thing in contrast to the decade after Pearl Harbor was when everybody participated in that decade of World War II, everybody knew somebody who was fighting overseas,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said. “You had a Manhattan Project for atomic energy. You had the rubber bands being rolled up. There was a feeling of closure when the war came to an end and a feeling of we all did it together. We've been spectators, most of the country, in this decade, to the wars that have been fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
We have now been at war in Afghanistan twice as long as we were at war during WWII. Most Americans believe that we are no longer in Iraq, but the fact is that 46,000 U.S. troops are still stationed there (all of our allies have left). It costs us more than $20 billion annually just to air-condition all of our military facilities in Iraq.
War is an expensive undertaking, and it doesn’t create a single product.
ABC News recently reported that more than $9 billion in U.S. cash, weapons and supplies has simply vanished in Iraq, including 190,000 guns, 110,000 of which are AK-47s. Care to ponder whose hands those weapons are in now?
Since 9/11, America has been in the war business. And while business is booming, it’s not exactly making a profit. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
I know this seems like incredibly negative commentary to spew on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But it’s time to ask ourselves how the victims of that horrific attack would have wanted us to act in the decade since their deaths. I don’t think we’ve come remotely close to honoring their memory.