9/11 was a pleasant morning as I drove from our townhouse about 35KMs away to my broadcast studio in downtown Vancouver. As usual, I was listening to music not the news. I walked into the studio and there were half a dozen co-workers frozen, like zombies, silent, with vacant stares. They motioned to a TV monitor just as plane #2 hit the World Trade Center.
Like the assassination of John Kennedy everyone remembers where he was when this astonishing event took place.
That night, President George W. Bush, sounding like Winston Churchill in 1940 (here the comparison perished) declared war on terrorism. In fact, Bush was struck dumb when informed about the tragedy; he was in a schoolroom of kids watching a presentation called “My Little Goat”. He sat through the presentation; the look on his face mirroring that on my colleagues’ faces.
One could not begin to tally the consequences that flowed from this tragedy, including an instant reaction from the “conspiracy” brigade who quickly let it be known that all Jews who worked in the towers were forewarned so missed being killed and that it was all a fake – bad people had loaded the building with explosives which were detonated.
The immediate consequence in the US was the suspension of the presumption of innocence as “Homeland Security” laws were passed which sacrificed citizen’s liberty from undue process. Unqualified border guards did helpful things like asking if you had a bomb in your bags. This ineffective nonsense effectively anaesthetized Americans against civil rights abuses that continue to this day. One is reminded of the Benjamin Franklin aphorism “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security”.
As always, under similar circumstances, people started to “turn in” friends, acquaintances, and suspicious looking people generally. There was a strong whiff of McCarthyism of the 50s which was so aptly summed up by the actor Humphrey Bogart. Referring of the witch hunt for Communists of the House Committee on Un-American Activities he remarked “they’ll nail anyone who ever scratched his ass during the National Anthem.”
The “presumption of innocence” central to the US, was abandoned with terrorist suspects held incommunicado at the US Cuban jail at Guantanamo Bay. To the horror of all who cherish liberty and fair play President Bush approved torturing of terrorist suspects.
The lady of the Statue of Liberty must blush at its inscription “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." These words, which portrayed American liberty, are abandoned to the extent one cannot even go to a baseball game without risking a body search.
The international consequences have been enormous. Within a few weeks of 9/11 US troops invaded Afghanistan in order to rout Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the tragedy, and its leader Osama Bin Laden. For inexplicable reasons the US, after taking Kabul, stopped short of pursuing the Bin Laden bunch into the Himalayas and their forces are still in Afghanistan, presumably to prop up a crooked government. The country that defied Alexander the Great, the British army and the Soviet Union is now doing it to America, a country which has always had problems with the history of places they plant themselves. As with Vietnam, the US has no exit strategy. The aging apparatchiks of the old Soviet Union, which beat a humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, are no doubt having a belly laugh at America’s expense!
There is nothing quite as entertaining, in a sad way, as when the United States decides that an intervention in foreign affairs is necessary to bring American style democracy to a country which poses no danger to it. Such was the second Gulf War which had nothing to do with any danger Saddam Hussein posed to its neighbours but was all about keeping critical oil wells safe for America’s unquenchable thirst.
An interesting exercise is to compare Gulf War I to Gulf War II.
In the earlier war, you will remember, the tears flowed about an independent country being occupied by a nasty dictator. This was unacceptable and part of the deal was that the Emir of Kuwait would convert his nation to democracy. The war had, we were assured, nothing to do with oil. Yeah, right!
Is there a connection between 9/11 and Gulf War II?
Of course even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. (It’s of note that over ¼ of Americans think differently.)
One has to understand the American psyche.
Where there is an opportunity to push American “Manifest Destiny”, the US armed forces are not far behind. We Canadians know something about this 19th century national notion that the US was mandated by God to bring democracy, as they saw it, to all of North America. Because of the fear of this, and the revival of the notion when the US Civil War ended, four British Colonies formed a new nation called Canada which soon stretched to the Pacific. British Columbia, 1500 miles from Canada joined it in 1871 as the threat from the US became alarmingly shrill.
With the Spanish-American War of 1898, the philosophy of Manifest Destiny moved abroad to the Caribbean and the Philippines. Even though the Monroe Doctrine put both the Americas out of bounds to foreign interests, the US did not accept the obvious inference that the same theory bound America to stay home.
World War I was seen by a majority of Americans as a strong argument against their involvement in foreign wars but that died with World War II which made the US the #1 power in the world. In American eyes, that made them the international defender of democracy; that entitled them to interfere, militarily, in all countries, no matter how they were run. As long as they were not communist they must be considered as an acceptable democracy and subject to US “protection”, much as the USSR “protected” Eastern Europe.
What has all this to do with 9/11?
Everything. For while The US had made forays into overseas countries before – the invasion of Lebanon in 1958 and its involvement in the Balkans in the 90s come to mind – 9/11 conferred on them, in the minds of the US “establishment”, the right indeed obligation to intervene in foreign lands without even tepid approval of the United Nations…
Thus the dots between unsatisfactory actions of foreign lands and America’s self proclaimed right to do as it pleases are clearly connected.
9/11 was much more than a tragedy that killed 3000 people – it was the catalyst that eroded, likely forever, America’s democratic principles and confirmed, in their minds, the right to do as they damned well please in other people’s countries…