Saturday, September 10, 2011

Has the 9-11 Attack Changed Anything?

By Tom Kando

It is incumbent to post something about 9/11, on the decennial anniversary of the attack. Let me try to come up with something non-superfluous, something beyond the platitudes uttered by the media at this time.

I am in Holland right now. (From where I flew back to California by way of Newark on 9/10, 2001, incidentally! Can you believe it?)

Maybe I can say something positive from this vantage point. In the US, of course, the commemoration is important.

First, the BAD: Besides the attack itself and the 3,000 civilian deaths, there have been enormous additional costs. America's response to the worst attack it has ever suffered in its entire history has been halting, flawed, confused, incredibly costly, questioned and questionable in many ways. We have waged at least one misplaced war, the victim compensation process and the redevelopment of ground-zero have been marked by litigation, contention, delay, cost overruns, inefficiency and disunion (although the ground zero memorial park which is finally taking shape now is magnificent and deeply meaningful).

The political climate has changed. Some of the country's rightward drift and its xenophobia can be attributed to 9/11. Right-wing nativism has also grown elsewhere in the Western World, for example Geert Wilders here in the Netherlands.

The dual war has cost the lives of more than 5,000 US soldiers, those of more than 100,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians, TRILLIONS (not billions) in expenses, and incalculable additional direct and collateral costs.

The country's response to 9/11 has often been compared to its reaction to Pearl Harbor, which is often said to have been guided by greater moral clarity and to have been "better" in many other ways, occurring at a time when the country was less confused. Who knows.

But it is wrong to dwell on the negative. I prefer to see the glass as half full:

The Spring issue of the Dutch magazine "Maarten" contains an article titled "No, the World has not changed after 9/11."

The article is almost correct. Its main conclusion is that "the changes of the past 10 years are not the consequence of 9/11, but of how the West reacted to it."

All in all, Americans should feel good about several things:

1. As Maarten notes, none of the hyperbole expressed at the time has come to pass. 9/11 was not the beginning of World War Three - cold or hot. It has not lead to a "Clash of Civilizations" (Samuel Huntington). It was not the beginning of a new era in world history.

2. American civilization and civility have survived. We have not become a police state. There has been no significant erosion of civil rights. There have been no pogroms against Muslims who live among us.The only thing that's become a little bit more of a
hassle is flying. But we have adapted to this brilliantly - testimony to man's infinite ingenuity.

3. As President Obama winds down our two wars in the next couple of years, we can expect the country to improve on its priorities.

4. America's relationship to the world has improved (somewhat). Here in Holland, for example, there is quite a bit of coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The virulent anti-Americanism which existed in most of Europe during the Bush years is gone. It has not been replaced by love, but by a mixture of indifference, continued sympathy for Obama, and some empathy (not sympathy), in the sense that more Europeans now realize that America is fallible, not all-mighty, sort of like Europe itself.

5. Remember that dozens of US allies, abiding by NATO's article Number Five, have fought on America's side in the two retaliatory wars upon which it embarked a decade ago. They have done this sometimes reluctantly, and generally in an auxiliary role. Even so, many hundreds of European soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

I am not talking about the merits of the wars, or lack thereof.

6. The US's diminished role, its limits, its less-than-superpower status are a blessing in disguise. When new problems surface, they are not necessarily America's responsibility. Libya? Let others deal with it. And so France, the UK and others do, with America playing the auxiliary role. Perfect.

7. The Arab Spring? The verdict isn't in yet. It may be a positive phenomenon. Maybe it will somehow reduce the world's polarization between Western Crusaders and Middle-Eastern Jihadists (as long as it doesn't make Israel's position untenable).
Who knows...

So, let's try to be positive about the world on September 11, 2011, and about America's relationship to the world. Nine Eleven was a terrible attack, the monstrous and unforgivable murder of three thousand innocent civilians who had done nothing bad to Muslims, to Arabs, or to Middle-Easterners. Our subsequent rage and our continued tears are justified.

At the same time, we can see, a decade later, that it did not lead to armageddon, and insofar as the world order has changed a little, it may be for the better. This is certainly not what the terrorists were counting on, but it may be what has happened, unwittingly. At least, this is my hope. leave comment here