TEN YEARS AGO, a weekday that dawned in the usual fashion was quickly eclipsed by the unthinkable. It was a day that no American will ever forget. As disbelief gave way to despondency, we were forced to confront the hard truth of the moment. Nothing would ever be the same for us, or for our country.
As horrifying as the attacks were, it is also horrifying to think about how little has been made of the opportunities for change that 9/11 brought. American culture has budged little from the attitudes that fueled the disdain that resulted in the attacks. Today’s politics are governed by more—not less—of the sort of ideology that Dick Cheney represented when he stated that “the American way of life is non-negotiable.” Even the 2008 financial collapse, rife as it was with signs that our economic systems are flawed and unjust, resulted in no real change to those systems (nor—incredibly—in any judiciary action). And it is abundantly clear that big government and big business have no more interest in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels (often from countries whose citizens resent us) now than they did a decade ago. The irony is clear: if America’s foreign policy was the target that put us at risk on 9/11, then we have only repainted that target with bolder colors.
September 12, 2001, could have been a date from which Americans measured anew the progress of our nation. It could have been a time to reconsider our priorities. Instead it ushered in an era of aggression, self-interest, and shortsightedness. It is hard not to speculate about how different the past ten years could have been if the money that has been poured into Iraq and Afghanistan ($12 billion to $16 billion dollars per month, according to the Washington Post), let alone untold billions of dollars on internal security measures, had been spent more judiciously. Think about where we could be with renewable energy, education, social services, physical infrastructure, food production, environmental remediation, and any number of other projects of national significance. Instead we are witnessing the sobering effects of kicking these areas of intense need down the road, while, during the same span of time, our national debt has more than tripled. One cannot honestly look at our current situation and believe that the war on terrorism has been “won” in any way.
It is even harder to reckon with the total moral failure of the actions that the American government has taken since 9/11. The chance to remediate decades of failed foreign policy through more enlightened leadership has been virtually ignored. It could take the United States longer to recover any moral authority than to pay for its two sprawling wars. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, we are content to see the number of Priuses on the road slowly increase, while oil companies continue to reap record profits.
Despite the fact that our leaders in Washington have squandered the opportunity to make 9/11 a turning point toward a safer, more sustainable future, millions of individuals have taken up the task. You know them; perhaps you are one of them. They’re the new farmers, the affordable housing advocates, the alternative energy enthusiasts, the climate activists, the peace workers—the list is long, and gratifying. But nothing would matter more to our future than to have that same level of passion and energy at the highest levels of government. Demanding that leadership have that resolve is an essential step toward a better future.
An excellent editorial. I wish it could run in every publication in the nation. But I would not complain about the money spent on internal security measures since 9-11. It is an appropriate response to a security failure.
I love the question provoked here: what could have been done with 16 billion per month? Unfortunately, your final paragraph feels like a lot of what I’ve heard too much of late: harping on Obama. Are you really trying to say that, you, too, are disappointed in his leadership? If so, just say it, with clear guidelines and possibly some compassion. Did he even have a chance to lead us out of war? Somehow I doubt it at this point. Our issue is clear to me: this country’s decision making and clearly its budget making is ruled by a corrupt military industrial complex. I personally applaud Obama for doing the best he can in a corrupt system.
Appropriate response to security failure? Or yet more jobs for the boys? Nancy I think you’re closer to the mark. Me? I know nothing … apart from the fact that the laws of physics don’t allow for buildings to collapse uniformly on their own footprints at the speed of freefall (particularly buildings that weren’t even hit by anything) unless they’re being substantially assisted by controlled demolition. That’s not conspiracy. That’s simple common sense.
As I slowly march toward age 75, I am now sure that I am becoming a misanthrope. While many here and abroad, including the comments found here, are attempting to articulate more than “shock and awe” as the 11th nears. Nancy very wisely cites the words of Eisenhower about the military industrial complex. Thin, cool comfort. ButI reach back further to the Roman empire and one of its finest sages, Titus Maccius Plautus (d. l84 B.C.) who declared “Lupus est homo homini” or “Man is man’s wolf.” Cold but clearer truth distilled from the blood their leadership loosed!
Ha! Pretty much exactly what was going through my head when I woke up this morning … the tendency of humans to form themselves into packs, compete for alpha male/female status, go around pissing on everything and savaging other packs. We have allowed our prowess with tools and technology to fill us with hubris and lull us into believing we are making ‘progress’ when really the opposite is the case. Even dogs live in harmony with their environment and respect the natural order …
I guess I am in the minority, but to me the 9-11 attacks were just another senseless human tragedy like Rwanda or Columbine. Just another example of people killing people for no good reason. It didn’t change anything at all for me.
Certainly the government of the USA has now killed enough innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to surpass the evil done on 9-11. But heck, I guess since they aren’t Americans and since it is the military doing the killing it doesn’t matter…
Nancy, do you really think Obama is doing the best that he can do? He is part of the problem and I haven’t seen any indication at all that he is trying to do anything outside the status quo that was already in place. Just witness the giveaways to the big banks and even more relevant to readers of Orion, the approval of more oil drilling and the tar sands pipeline. I had low (realistic?) expectations for him, but he has managed to dash them all. He isn’t opposed to a corrupt system, he’s a product of it.
What a great comment by Frederick G. Rodgers above. I wish I had half his way with words! I love his comments about the Roman Empire and the saying â€œLupus est homo hominiâ€ (Man is manâ€™s wolf). Too much wisdom is being lost these days.