• Happy 9/11 Day: Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    September 11, 2015

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    weshallneverforget


    I really tried this year. I wanted to write a killer blog piece on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, something that summed up all that has happened, the wars, the loss of freedoms, everything. As I live in New York, Ground Zero is a subway ride away, so I went there, hoping for inspiration.

    Instead, I found people taking selfies in front of the memorials. European tourists asking for directions to the subway, vendors selling cheesy NYC souvenirs and NYFD Never Forget T-shirts. It wasn’t somber, it was just another New York tourist attraction. Meanwhile, there were bomb-proof trash cans, and “See Something, Say Something” signs everywhere.

    I went home and knocked off most of a liter of (Russian) vodka and at some point inspiration turned to me watching Cartoon Network.

    Then I read a terrific article on the meaning of 9/11 which said everything I was hoping to say until Sponge Bob stepped in. So here, guest blogger Tom Engelhardt speaks for us all.

    Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

    Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach — from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet — would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

    Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

    Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

    Fourteen years later, the improbability of it all still staggers the imagination, starting with those vast shards of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the real-world equivalent of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand in the original Planet of the Apes.  With lower Manhattan still burning and the air acrid with destruction, they seemed like evidence of a culture that had undergone its own apocalyptic moment and come out the other side unrecognizably transformed.  To believe the coverage of the time, Americans had experienced Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima combined.  We were planet Earth’s ultimate victims and downtown New York was “Ground Zero,” a phrase previously reserved for places where nuclear explosions had occurred.  We were instantly the world’s greatest victim and greatest survivor, and it was taken for granted that the world’s most fulfilling sense of revenge would be ours.  9/11 came to be seen as an assault on everything innocent and good and triumphant about us, the ultimate they-hate-our-freedoms moment and, Osama, it worked. You spooked this country into 14 years of giving any dumb or horrifying act or idea or law or intrusion into our lives or curtailment of our rights a get-out-of-jail-free pass. You loosed not just your dogs of war, but ours, which was exactly what you needed to bring chaos to the Muslim world.    

    Fourteen years later, let me remind you of just how totally improbable 9/11 was and how ragingly clueless we all were on that day. George W. Bush (and cohorts) couldn’t even take it in when, on August 6, 2001, the president was given a daily intelligence briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, which had many of the pieces of the bin Laden puzzle in their hands, still couldn’t imagine it. And believe me, even when it was happening, I could hardly grasp it.  I was doing exercises in my bedroom with the TV going when I first heard the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and saw the initial shots of a smoking tower. And I remember my immediate thought: just like the B-25 that almost took out the Empire State Building back in 1945. Terrorists bringing down the World Trade Center? Please. Al-Qaeda? You must be kidding. Later, when two planes had struck in New York and another had taken out part of the Pentagon, and it was obvious that it wasn’t an accident, I had an even more ludicrous thought.  It occurred to me that the unexpected vulnerability of Americans living in a land largely protected from the chaos so much of the world experiences might open us up to the pain of others in a new way. Dream on. All it opened us up to was bringing pain to others.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you still find it improbable that George W. Bush and company used those murderous acts and the nearly 3,000 resulting deaths as an excuse to try to make the world theirs?  It took them no time at all to decide to launch a “Global War on Terror” in up to 60 countries.  It took them next to no time to begin dreaming of the establishment of a future Pax Americana in the Middle East, followed by the sort of global imperium that had previously been conjured up only by cackling bad guys in James Bond films.  Don’t you find it strange, looking back, just how quickly 9/11 set their brains aflame?  Don’t you find it curious that the Bush administration’s top officials were quite so infatuated by the U.S. military?  Doesn’t it still strike you as odd that they had such blind faith in that military’s supposedly limitless powers to do essentially anything and be “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”? Don’t you still find it eerie that, amid the wreckage of the Pentagon, the initial orders our secretary of defense gave his aides were to come up with plans for striking Iraq, even though he was already convinced that al-Qaeda had launched the attack? (“‘Go massive,’ an aide’s notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)  Don’t you think “and not” sums up the era to come?  Don’t you find it curious that, in the rubble of those towers, plans not just to pay Osama bin Laden back, but to turn Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran — “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran” — into American protectorates were already being imagined?

    Fourteen years later, how probable was it that the country then universally considered the planet’s “sole superpower,” openly challenged only by tiny numbers of jihadist extremists, with a military better funded than the next 10 to 13 forces combined (most of whom were allies anyway), and whose technological skills were, as they say, to die for would win no wars, defeat no enemies, and successfully complete no occupations?  What were the odds?  If, on September 12, 2001, someone had given you half-reasonable odds on a U.S. military winning streak in the Greater Middle East, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have slapped some money on the table.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century, despite having officially left one of those countries in 2011 (only to head back again in the late summer of 2014) and having endlessly announced the conclusion of its operations in the other (only to ratchet them up again)?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in parts of fractured Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan? If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. has gone into the business of robotic assassination big time; that (despite Watergate-era legal prohibitions on such acts), we are now the Terminators of Planet Earth, not its John Connors; that the president is openly and proudly an assassin-in-chief with his own global “kill list”; that we have endlessly targeted the backlands of the planet with our (Grim) Reaper and Predator (thank you Hollywood!) drones armed with Hellfire missiles; and that Washington has regularly knocked off women and children while searching for militant leaders and their generic followers?  And don’t you find it odd that all of this has been done in the name of wiping out the terrorists and their movements, despite the fact that wherever our drones strike, those movements seem to gain in strength and power?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that our “war on terror” has so regularly devolved into a war of and for terror; that our methods, including the targeted killings of numerous leaders and “lieutenants” of militant groups have visibly promoted, not blunted, the spread of Islamic extremism; and that, despite this, Washington has generally not recalibrated its actions in any meaningful way?

    Fourteen years later, isn’t it possible to think of 9/11 as a mass grave into which significant aspects of American life as we knew it have been shoveled?  Of course, the changes that came, especially those reinforcing the most oppressive aspects of state power, didn’t arrive out of the blue like those hijacked planes.  Who, after all, could dismiss the size and power of the national security state and the military-industrial complex before those 19 men with box cutters arrived on the scene?  Who could deny that, packed into the Patriot Act (passed largely unread by Congress in October 2001) was a wish list of pre-9/11 law enforcement and right-wing hobbyhorses?  Who could deny that the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon supporters had long been thinking about how to leverage “U.S. military supremacy” into a Pax Americana-style new world order or that they had been dreaming of “a new Pearl Harbor” which might speed up the process?  It was, however, only thanks to Osama bin Laden, that they — and we — were shuttled into the most improbable of all centuries, the twenty-first.

    Fourteen years later, the 9/11 attacks and the thousands of innocents killed represent international criminality and immorality of the first order.  On that, Americans are clear, but — most improbable of all — no one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more people, turned many in the Greater Middle East into internal or external refugees, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings.  In these years, no act — not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of innocent people, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of wedding parties, nor the killing of children — has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “exceptional” and “indispensable” country of staggering goodness and innocence.

    Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?

    Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt





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  • Recent Comments

    • RICH BAUER said...

      1

      http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/rainbow-appears-over-wtc-day-sept-11-anniversary-n425476

      When there is blood on the streets, buy defense stocks. It all makes sense when it comes down to dollars AND CENTS.

      09/11/15 7:58 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      2

      The Military-Industrial complex found its pot of gold in the ashes of 9-11.

      09/11/15 8:00 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      3

      quote”In these years, no act — not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of innocent people, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of wedding parties, nor the killing of children — has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “exceptional” and “indispensable” country of staggering goodness and innocence.”unquote

      Don’t you find it odd that because of the above reasons, a nation of 300mil gun owners have yet to revolt in armed insurrection? That alone tells me something about what this nation has become. I believe it’s spelled the United States of Depravity.

      quote”Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” unquote

      Notwithstanding the word “evil-do’ers, when I heard Bush started using the word homeland, and then created the Dept. of Homeland Security, all of a sudden it all fell into place. A slow but steady transformation of the American consciousness was finally achieved. It’s a wonder these motherfuckers didn’t run a Nazi flag up the flagpole on top of the White House.

      As for 9/11, I’m still convinced Cheney did it.

      09/11/15 8:48 AM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...

      4

      Svoboda Tower’s risen on One World $lave Center above the 9/11 Mausoleum.
      http://images.sodahead.com/polls/002768435/5523141199_kool_54150758505_xlarge.jpeg
      NO, TPP!

      09/11/15 8:54 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      5

      btw, the article on the Warrior Corporation is excellent.

      09/11/15 9:16 AM | Comment Link

    • Roger Springfield said...

      6

      But.. but.. we’re still number 1, right?

      09/11/15 9:38 AM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...

      7

      Osama repeatedly denied having planned this attack. Waiting for the release of the report on the Saudis…even if you are not part of the 9/11 sceptics, hard not to acknowledge that the attack fit the neocon playbook a little too close for comfort.

      09/11/15 11:07 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      8

      PVB- you only thought you were watching the Cartoon Network. You were instead watching the Evening News. Time to reprogram your remote- the presets have become scrambled.

      09/11/15 11:12 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      9

      I just have to add something to that “We shall never forget”- as if Americans remember anything correctlly or acknowledge reality in a proper fashion.
      On many Harley Davidson Hogs I sometimes see painted on the tank 9-11-01 We Will Never Forget. Never have I seen 8-05-45 -we will never forgive- written on a Hayabusa.

      09/11/15 12:00 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      10

      Helen Marshall said…
      quote” Osama repeatedly denied having planned this attack. “unquote

      At other times Osama claimed to have the proof that Cheney was leading the secret force who recruited the 9/11 terrorists in Saudi Arabia that ultimately destroyed the fabric of the USA that I was born into.

      09/11/15 7:41 PM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...

      11

      I just looked at the events calendar for the 9/11 memorial and it seems like you didn’t miss anything. They didn’t do anything special this year besides turn on the enormous floodlights at night.

      I don’t even want to think about the legacy 9/11 left us. It was a bigger victory for Bin Laden than he ever could have imagined. So depressing.

      09/11/15 8:15 PM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...

      12

      Aha, they did have a ceremony in the morning, which is creepily fetishistic. It includes five moments of silence, one for each plane strike and collapsed tower, at the exact minute those things happened. Then they read the names of each person who died.

      I’d prefer a Christian ceremony, personally.

      09/11/15 8:20 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      13

      Meanwhile, 14 yrs later, Murka is heading into the Fourth Turning…
      quote
      “I’m beginning to believe the nation will not be unified behind a common cause when the coming financial eruption unleashes molten lava of chaos, punishing economic distress, civil strife, class warfare, race wars, and ultimately global war. As Strauss and Howe foretold, the establishment (aka corporate fascist military industrial surveillance state) has seen a sequential loss of popular trust as their blatant corruption, sociopathic stranglehold on the levers of power, and unrelenting greed have angered the critical thinking aware citizens of this country. The next leg down in this Greater Depression will sever the remaining trust, disintegrating any remaining support for the existing civic order. What comes next will be heavily dependent upon whether the 5% to 10% of liberty minded believers in the Constitution are able to gain the trust of the masses. The odds will be long, but no longer than they were during that bitter winter at Valley Forge in 1777-1778.”unquote

      http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-09-11/fourth-turning-crisis-trust

      Meanwhile, Murika remains oblivious to the warning signs of the last 14 yrs..

      09/12/15 5:50 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      14

      Well well..it’s about time. 28 pages that could possibly trigger a regeneracy.

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/10/sharyl-attkisson-returns-tv-news-look-911-classifi/

      By now though, I’d suspect half of Murika doesn’t give a fuck. After listening to a program on PBS yesterday, that was a series of interviews with teenagers who were born shortly before or after 9/11, it’s blindingly obvious they don’t even think about it. It doesn’t concern them. It’s just history. But Miley Cyrus? Now your talking …

      09/12/15 6:05 AM | Comment Link

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