Today’s the fifth anniversary of 9/11, as you undoubtedly know. I remember getting up for school and being told a plane had hit one of the WTC towers and we didn’t know how it happened. The second plane struck the other tower a short while later and terrorism became the explanation. We didn’t do much that day in school. I watched the towers collapse during my careers class.
I hadn’t been paying much attention to politics before that. I remember rooting for Bush in 2000 and thinking we were lucky Gore wasn’t President after the attacks. I know why I rooted for Bush (my parents), but I’m not entirely sure where I got the second sentiment. Somewhere in the media, I assume. After that I started paying more attention, partly due to the increased number of political discussions on a music message board I used to post on. The person driving those discussions happened to be something of a conspiracy theorist, so I was exposed to 9/11 conspiracy theories (and Pearl Harbor ones, which led to the only book I purchased and later threw away). I fell into believing those for a while, but I was never particularly dogmatic about it and I was never sucked into the anti-semitic right-wing side of those ideas (not that there isn’t an anti-semitic left-wing side). Still, that’s a pretty horrible thing to believe and I’m glad I was able to find the arguments and evidence that led me to repudiate them.
So I have mixed views toward 9/11 conspiracy theorists now. I don’t want to see them ridiculed and attacked as twisted people, because I’m sure there are people like me who were just misguided. On the other hand, some of the mendacious anti-semitic and anti-government views of proponents of such theories are clearly wrong and those people deserve all the scorn we can muster.
Such people are on the extremist fringe of political debate, however. What about more mainstream responses? Sadly, those haven’t been so great either. Atheists (I know, not really mainstream, but I’d say respectable) seem to have reacted against religion, as evidenced by books like The End of Faith (which I swear I’m going to read eventually). Others have reacted against Islam with clash of civilizations rhetoric. Meanwhile, the far left has characterized the attacks as a result of our foreign policy, prompting accusations of “blaming America first.” Such lefties have advocated almost everything short of complete isolation. The more mainstream response, however, is perhaps even worse. We blindly supported our leaders, who were just as scared as we were. We haven’t held anyone accountable for the overreaches in the PATRIOT Act. We abandoned restraint in the name of having a post-9/11 mindset, where visions of mushroom clouds overrule reason, in Iraq. We allowed people to be imprisoned without basic legal rights. We supported torture and rendition. We failed to stand up for the basic domestic security reforms necessary (9/11 commission recommendations, port security, etc), letting politicians tell us that invading other countries comes before basic common sense. All in the name of fear. We didn’t reevaluate our priorities in the face of a horrific event. We didn’t decide that we were neglecting important tasks. We allowed fear to rule and send us running into the arms of those who promised comfort and safety if we’d sacrifice some of our ideals.
Thankfully, none of this has come back to bite us – yet. Sure, our policies have had some terrible consequences (deaths and torture in our wars, curtailment of some our freedoms), but what they aim to prevent (another 9/11) hasn’t happened. Whether this is because of our regrettable responses (Iraq, PATRIOT Act), our better ones (Afghanistan), or nothing at all, we’re in danger of learning the wrong lesson. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc is a popular logical fallacy. What happens if we’re hit again in the next couple years? How do we separate what was reasonable and proper from what was hysterical and illogical? Can we do that with the intense fear and anger we’ll be dealing with? I hope so. While honoring the people who lost their lives in the attacks is important, more important is determining how we move forward and taking stock of how we’ve done so far. That’s what I hope isn’t forgotten amongst the calls of “never forget.”