Reflections on 9/11
The Media Perspective: Ed Bishop–Journalism professor
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001,Tom Brokaw joined Katie Couric and the crew of the “Today Show” as they covered the chaos in lower Manhattan. Brokaw was their boss—the influential managing editor of NBC News.
Along with a handful of other New York journalists, Brokaw helped set the country’s news agenda.
As the Twin Towers crashed to the ground, he pronounced solemnly: “This is this generation’s Pearl Harbor.”
Brokaw held deeply romantic ideas about World War II.
He had written two bestsellers about the United States during the war, about its unity, its sacrifice. He believed the war had been the peak time of American history.
So, that morning, in one careless phrase Brokaw set the tone that would be followed all across the nation. Sept. 11 was an act of war—not a crime, but war.
Wars mean engaging armies—tanks, soldiers, airplanes. Wars are fought between nations. They call up enemies.
They call up the public’s patriotism.
Crimes, on the other hand, mean law-enforcement, crime labs, investigations, trials; and, when it’s an international crime, cooperation between nations and international police forces.
In all probability, the neo-conservatives who dominated foreign policy in President George W. Bush’s administration would have insisted that 9/11 was an act of war—they had long wanted to invade Iraq.
But their way was paved by the country’s news media who followed Brokaw’s lead. In fact, during the next few years the press would put aside its role as government watchdog and become cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq. It was the greatest failure in the history of American journalism.
And that distinction between an act of war and a criminal act—or rather the lack of distinction—continues to affect nearly every aspect of American life. Ask any American muslim. Ask any returning soldier. Ask any economist about the results of the enormous debt built up by the unfunded wars during the last decade.
The Political Perspective: Dan Hellinger–Professor of History, Political Science and International Relations
Like you, I remember where I was on 9/11. I mean Sept. 11, 1973, the day that warplanes bombed the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, bringing to conclusion a three year campaign by the United States to overthrow the elected government of President Salvador Allende, inaugurating 18 years of harsh dictatorship for Chileans.
Many more citizens of that small country would die than were killed by the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the twin towers.
Still, 9/11 of 2001 changed our world, and it accelerated some changes in the U.S. that had been unfolding since, at least, the Reagan years. Ten years ago, the world’s most powerful nation, at a moment of undeniable grief and humiliation, could have made an extraordinary gesture and reinforced peaceful settlement of conflict.
The criminals that attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center helped make the world more dangerous. The response to 9/11 has not made it much safer today, and it has led to an endless war, waged as though it was a PlayStation game. It hastened the fraying of the fabric of international law, and it contributed to the fiscal disaster we now endure.
There have been two opportunities for the U.S. to strike back against international lawlessness and terrorism. The first came shortly after the attacks, when President Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden to Washington. The Taliban asked for evidence of bin Laden’s complicity—the usual procedure in an extradition proceeding —and offered to turn him over to an independent tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court in Den Hague in the Netherlands. Bush chose war instead.
The second opportunity came earlier this year, when bin Laden was assassinated in the Navy Seal raid. Had the Seals captured bin Laden, instead of shooting him dead and dumping his body in the ocean, he could have been put on trial for his crimes.
Had we pursued extradition first, not only would international law have been strengthened, but the lives of nearly 2,000 American servicemen would not have been lost.
The Bush administration would not have been able to lie its way into an invasion of Iraq and waste 4,300 American lives on two wars. Over 650,000 Iraqis might still alive today (150,000 directly killed by the war). Yes, they did get rid of Saddam, but, by now, they probably would have emulated their neighbors and achieved that anyway. Nearly 10,000 Afghan civilians who were not Taliban or al-Qaida might still be alive.
Another casualty of the endless war has been the restraints placed upon assassination as a tool of American foreign policy. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate, a special Senate committee investigated and revealed the complicity of the CIA in assassination attempts of a number of prominent African and Latin American political leaders, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba. Subsequently, the U.S. Congress passed legislation, still valid today, prohibiting the use of assassination.
After 9/11, President George W. Bush began the practice of using drone aircraft under command, not of the military, but the CIA to target and kill suspects. Barack Obama greatly expanded the practice.
The Conflict Monitoring Center (CMC), an independent non-governmental organization monitoring “anti-state violence” in South Asia reports that the CIA carried out 132 drone attacks in Pakistan in 210, more than all the other attacks carried out in the previous six years, killing 938 people. The CMC refers to the attacks as an “assassination campaign.”
Drone attacks are underway in Yemen and Somalia as well. In Libya, NATO forces, authorized to defend civilians from attack, nonetheless bombed the residences of Muammar Gaddafi.
In Yemen, the target included a radical Muslim cleric who is an American citizen. “It’s illegal to kill a U.S. citizen in Yemen, outside of armed conflict, without any due process,” says Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights. It also violates international law to use force in this way outside of warfare.
You might say that these attacks help prevent a recurrence of 9/11.
Dennis Blair, who served as Director of National Intelligence until May 2010, said recently at the Aspen Security Forum that the attacks have killed some “mid-level” al-Qaida and Taliban operatives, but, “have had a negligible impact overall on American security.”
The wars have helped undermine our economic security. Consider the cost of just the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, combined. Search for “cost of war” and you will find a running total which, last week, surpassed $1,242,525,500,000. For those unable to comprehend, that total is $1.24 trillion. The total spending on “security” since 9/11 is $7.6 trillion. We can’t blame the whole deficit crisis on the wars, but they have significantly contributed.
Of course, when bin Laden was killed, many rejoiced. “An eye for an eye” might seem the relevant Biblical passage here. But consider another one, Proverbs 24:17—“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them and pour it on you.”
The Student Perspective: Collin Reischman–Opinion Editor for The Journal
What can possibly be said about Sept. 11 that hasn’t been said before? What could be said that hasn’t been extrapolated on by men and women far more intelligent and eloquent than myself?
Probably a lot, if the right words can be mustered in the right order. Let’s start from the beginning, on a day unlike any other.
It was early in the morning when word began to leak across the world. As the details seeped out, and the images replayed infinitely, there was a numbness, and then, rage.
Like many of you, I wasn’t living in the world as an adult before Sept. 11. I was 12. And, because I don’t believe in egocentrism, there will be no grim tale of my memory of first hearing the news on the chilly day 10 years ago.
But, I’ve come of age in the post-9/11 world, which is a phrase I still don’t understand. I grew up with a different understanding of words like “Muslim” or “terrorism.” The Middle East was the new Soviet Union, and countries I’d never studied in school were on the news – sometimes we were bombing them. We no longer had the advantage of some clearly identifiable foe. There wasn’t a flag to point to and say, “bad guys.”
It’s been a noisy decade. There was noise about al-Qaida, bin Laden, Iraq and Afghanistan. We made noise about anthrax, yellow cake and duct tape. There was a gripping uncertainty to the world and a growing sense that the grand America I was taught about was slowing from a half-decade of gross expansion.
The world was smaller, yet somehow so much bigger and complex. People pressed buttons anywhere in the world, and could move mountains or masses or missiles. And in all the noise were disquieting images on the news of car bombs, civilians and dead American soldiers.
Noise everywhere. And somehow, in all the noise and madness, the visceral sensation of Sept. 11 faded. As my generation grew older, we forgot more and more the tragedy we had seen on our soil.
No great monument is yet constructed, and ground zero remains a place of deep introspective mourning for those who visit in person. But, with our blurry understanding of the world, our limbs extended into every crevice of the War on Terror, we became exhausted, disoriented and eventually disillusioned.
Now, our generation stands as young adults on the edge of a new era in our time. There is less certainty, I’m told, about our kind. We’re fatter than those before us, making less money, stuck in more debt, less likely to marry and apparently very unkempt.
Many of us were raised in a world that taught us to be fearful and uncertain, but it is in our nature to never accept such an insulting underestimation. Because, if we are forced to go back on that day in September, all the evidence of our character is right there, in the dust and smoke and iron at ground zero.
We remember stories about emergency personnel that died trying to save their fellow Americans; people that turned and ran back into the fires, many perishing while bringing others to safety.
We remember that we aren’t always right and our seemingly mountainous differences of creed and class and ideologue evaporate when the time commands. We remember that we care about each other, deeply and passionately.
We remember that it is in our capacity to do great things, as we have done before. We remember that we have tremendous strength and ingenuity.
We should weigh ourselves and recall that we should never be fearful. We should not be uncertain. And, in our ever-changing quest to form a more perfect union, we owe all those lost and destined-to-be-lost, our memory. We should always remember.