In the last couple of years, we've been given an interesting lesson in national character, if we care to pay attention to it. It's long been said that the true character of individuals is revealed during times of crisis. Here at Irregular Times, we suspect that the same can be said of national character.
Of course, if I ask you what kind of crisis the United States has been faced with in the last few years, almost everyone is going to give the same answer: "September 11!"
Now, if you had told Americans a few years ago that "September 11" was the major challenge facing the nation, they would called you crazy. How can a date on the calendar challenge the United States? You would have to explain that "September 11" is actually shorthand for "the attacks for September 11". Even with this elaboration, they still wouldn't understand.
It turns out there's a whole lot of meaning packed into the meaningless phrase "September 11", and it seems that Americans aren't very interested into unpacking that meaning anytime soon. We just prefer to say "September 11", feel a little bit angry or afraid in response, and leave it at that. Who got attacked by who, why they were attacked, what the effects have been, and why it all matters are questions that have been largely unasked, and almost completely unanswered.
George W. Bush says that the lesson of "September 11" is that there are bad guys and we have to make them pay. Also, George W. Bush says that "September 11" "changed everything", which means that he gets to do whatever he wants and the Constitution doesn't count any more. From the people in charge of the American government, the explanations of "September 11" don't get much deeper than that.
"September 11" has become some kind of sick national fetish for America, a thing that we fear and hate and love all at the same time, and that some of us never want to go away. I was struck when at the 2nd anniversary of "September 11", a large group of leading Republican politicians gathered to announce that they think that Americans ought to stop trying to move beyond "September 11". These Republicans suggested that Americans were better off being completely absorbed and permanently transformed by "September 11". They wanted the American national character to be defined, once and for all, with no end, by "September 11", and chastised anyone who dared to disagree.
Well, we here at Irregular Times don't give a half a damn about the "September 11" fetish. We know that there's an unspoken taboo that forbids Americans from critically examining the cult of "September 11" that has arisen in America in the last 2 years, with George W. Bush as its head priest, but we're not members of that cult. We're proudly going to break that taboo.
September 11 is not a holy day.
Let us ask the obvious question: What is there about "September 11" that has made the American nation so radically change its course, moving from a nation at peace to a nation overwhelmed by war, and sinking from a prosperous nation with surplus economic resources to a debt-ruined nation with deficits that will take generations to repay?WE HAD NO CHOICE!
First, let's dispense with the most common, and most ridiculous, excuse for the recent rush to ruin by the American nation: "We had no choice!" Of course, we had a choice.
A man who has fallen from a burning tower has no choice but to hit the ground and die. America is not and has not been in the position of a man has fallen from a burning tower. There are many Americans who like to believe that this is the case, but it isn't. The American nation had ample time and ability to choose how it would respond to "September 11".
The actual attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 were over in a matter of a couple of hours. The time of risk to those who responded to those attacks was over in a few days. After that time, no more damage was done by the actual attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that time, many times more damage has been done to the American nation by the American government's choice about how to react.
America had many possible choices, but it chose to launch two unnecessary wars.
That's right, I said two unnecessary wars.
The war against Afghanistan never needed to take place.
One of the most forgotten details of the American response in the weeks weeks after September 11, 2001 is that the government of Afghanistan offered to give in to George W. Bush's demands. The government of Afghanistan offered to hand Osama Bin Laden over to the American government, through Pakistan.
Why didn't George W. Bush take Afghanistan up on its offer? Oh, what an excellent question that is.
Bush refused to take Osama Bin Laden into custody from Afghanistan because the Afghan government wanted to negotiate the way in which this transfer would take place.
Bush said that he would not conduct any negotiations with the Afghan government, even if it meant that the American government could get Osama Bin Laden as a prisoner. Then, Bush said he'd had enough of talk with the Afghans.
Bush wanted to attack.
The government of Afghanistan pleaded with the Bush Administration, saying that it wanted to talk to him about handing over Osama Bin Laden into American custody.
Bush refused. Bush said he wouldn't talk about it. Bush wanted a war more than he wanted Osama Bin Laden. Bush made a choice to let Osama Bin Laden go.
America didn't have to invade Afghanistan. Bush made the choice that he wanted to fight for Osama Bin Laden instead of negotiating for him. For Bush, fighting felt better. Bush was mad.
Mad Bush, mad.
Of course, Bush didn't do any of the actual fighting himself. He didn't even ask his own children, who are close to 20 years old, to sign up. No, Bush sent other people to fight in his war of vengeance against evildoers.
IN IT DEEP IN AFGHANISTAN
The trouble is that, for a war of vengeance against evildoers, the invasion of Afghanistan didn't really work that well.
Oh, I know that sounds crazy. After all, victory was declared in Afghanistan a long time ago, right? At this point, it's important to remember that Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq way back at the end of April this year. It looks like Bush isn't just pre-emptive in his military strikes. He's also presumptuous in his declaration of victory.
Fuming September 11 Cult members will, at this point, be calling family members over to the computer screen, pointing angrily and saying, "Look at this, honey! This idiot says that America still hasn't achieved victory in Afghanistan! Doesn't he know that if we hadn't invaded Afghanistan, Al-Quaida and the Taliban would still be in operation in Afghanistan! We had to stop them!"
Prepare to get even more angry, you members of the September 11 Cult. Al-Quaida and the Taliban are still in Afghanistan. In fact, they still rule in parts of Afghanistan. In fact, they're still attacking and killing American soldiers.
Hamid Karzai, the American-appointed "President" of Afghanistan only really controls a small part of Afghanistan. Elsewhere, independent warlords rule, and some of those warlords seem more loyal to the Taliban than to the American occupation force.
You remember that cute little commercial that came out soon after September 11, 2001? The one that said that if you use drugs, you're supporting the terrorists? The commercial said that the Taliban and Al-Quaida used money from the opium drug trade to finance their operations. So, if you bought heroin or any other opium-based drug, the commercial implied, you were giving money to Osama Bin Laden.
The truth is a little more complicated than that. Actually, the Taliban rulers hated the opium trade, and had cut it down to almost nothing under their rule. Yes, I know that this little fact doesn't fit with what the commercial said, but the sad truth is that sometimes commercials lie. The opium trade had about as much to do with the Taliban and Al-Quaida as afghan blankets.
It's not that I like the Taliban. I'm not writing this article to defend them, just to dispell the fictional fetish established by the September 11 Cult. You see, although the Taliban did a lot of terrible things when they controlled all of Afghanistan, they're not really the simple evildoers that the Bush Administration says they were.
In fact, there is not one single bit of evidence that the Taliban spend their spare time sitting in dark corners, rubbing their hands together, throwing their heads back and cackling "muah-ha-ha-ha" to the full moon. In spite of what George W. Bush likes to think, the world is not easily divided up into good guys and bad guys. If you're not with us, you might still not be with them. Life is not a comic book. We can't win just by killing a bunch of people we don't like.
What's actually happened in the last couple of years in Afghanistan is that the opium drug trade has boomed. Donald Rumsfeld has admitted that the American occupation force in Afghanistan is completely incapable of doing anything to control the opium drug lords that have gone back into business under the watch of Hamid Karzai. Actually, it's not true that if you use illegal drugs, you're with the terrorists. It's more like this: If you supported the American invasion of Afghanistan, you supported the illegal drug trade. Oops.
Hm. How is it that we won the war in Afghanistan? If war is won when you go someplace and kill more of their people than they can kill of yours, then sure, we won the war in Afghanistan. On the other hand, if winning a war is defined by the achievement of the strategic objectives defined at the beginning of the war, then America has not won the war in Afghanistan. No, the war in Afghanistan is not yet over, almost two years after it was begun. (This doesn't bode well for Iraq, does it?)
BIZARRE CULT RITUAL: DOING SOMETHING
Second, let's take a peek at the central defense of the September 11 Fetish Cult. This is what we see when cult members, flabbergasted at any kind of critical examination of what happened on September 11, 2001, shout, "Well! We had to do something!"
What do these members of the September 11 Cult mean when they say that we had to "do something"? Were they blaming an American culture of laziness for the attacks?
We here at Irregular Times understand that America is not a do-nothing nation. That's okay. We like to do things too. In fact, We're doing something right now as we put this article together. Right now, there are hundreds of Americans doing something all across the country. Some of them are working. Some of them are sleeping. Some of them are watching entertainment news television shows about Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. All of them are doing something.
For some reason, the fetishists who worship "September 11" believe that just doing something is going to make everybody safe. When confronted with a serious problem, or something that really scares them, these people react by demanding that someone do something, without caring much about the details of what that something is.
We don't think that this kind of do-anything-something attitude is any kind of way to chart the course of the American nation. We've got the rather odd notion that when responding to a problem, it matters very much what kind of response we make. Yes, we agree that America should do something to deal with the problems represented by the phrase "September 11", but we don't think that America should do just anything. We think that America ought to do the right thing, meaning something that will actually make things better, and not just satisfy our fearful instincts.
We've said, all the way back to September 12, 2001, that invading and occupying foreign countries half-way around the world would not make America safer from attack, but would actually make us more vulnerable. That prediction has been borne out. The wars of George W. Bush have destroyed the initial sympathy and friendship the world gave to America after the World Trade Center was destroyed and turned it into anger, if not downright hatred.
These wars have done little to destroy the Al-Quaida network, which seems to be recruiting new members and strengthening its offensive capabilities. All that Bush's bombings against evil have done is to bring Americans right to the doorstep of Al-Quaida, so that the Americans are within easy shooting range.
Sometimes, doing nothing is a better choice than doing something that makes matters worse.
Besides, there are a lot of other problems out there that someone needs to do something about. For one thing, there's global warming. Oh yes, finally, even the conservatives have admitted that there is such a thing as global warming. The only thing is that the conservatives now insist that human factors haven't had a thing to do with it. No, these conservatives are in search of alternative explanations, like trees, or dolphins, or Pokemon.
Well, has global warming really caused that much of a problem, compared to "September 11"? The immediate reaction is to say, "Gawrsh! Of course not! All global warming has done is forced a few butterflies to migrate a hundred miles to the north! Haw, haw!"
Actually, that immediate reaction is dead wrong. Dead, dead wrong.
As this chart shows, 3,021 people were killed in the one-time attacks of September 11, 2001. According to the World Health Organization, however, an estimated 160,000 people are being killed every year by the effects of global warming. That means that every year, something like fifty-two times the number of people are killed by global warming than were killed by "September 11", a non-repeating tragedy. If we're more interested in the emotional appeal of one-time tragedies, let's talk about the nearly 15,000 people who were killed in France by the record heat there this summer. That's almost five times the number of people who were killed a couple years ago in Manhattan and at the Pentagon. Why haven't the French done something and launched a war against energy companies like Halliburton who have created the global pollution network that is suspected of being responsible for global warming? The French, it turns out, don't have the fanatic impulse to do something that we Americans do.
What has George W. Bush done about global warming? Nothing. One hundred and sixty thousand human beings are being killed every year, and George W. Bush hasn't even acknowledged the problem. In fact, George W. Bush uses his power to deny that the problem exists. This year, he ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete passages in an annual that refer to the danger of global warming. If the EPA isn't allowed to report on global warming, Bush seems to think, then maybe it will just go away. George W. Bush seems to have that kind of attitude about a lot of things, like the record federal budget deficit that he has created.
It would do the world a lot of good if the September 11 Cult donated just a bit of its do something zealotry to the cause of global warming.
But really, we're not suggesting that the American government do nothing in response to "September 11". The thing is, though, that bombing is not the only something there is to do. The alternative to war is not doing nothing. Among the many real alternatives to war is strong, smart diplomacy.
George W. Bush and his buddies have made careers out of making fun of diplomacy, but the plain fact is that the Bush Administration's complete failure at diplomacy has resulted in the loss of hundreds of American lives.
When smart diplomats are allowed to do their work, war is not necessary. In his great rush to go to war, George W. Bush has not given diplomats time to do their work. In fact, Bush has created the impression that he does not want diplomats to do be able to do their work. It seems that Bush has been looking forward to going to war at every opportunity.
Such a President does not make Americans safer. Instead, he makes us America isolated and reviled. That is something, for sure. Bush undeniably did something.
HOW DARE WE!?!
Third, let's confront the central orthodoxy of the September 11 Cult. We call it the How Dare You Catechism.
The How Dare You Catechism goes something like this: "How dare you say that we do nothing in response to September 11! We need to stand behind the President and our troops! Don't you care about the poor families of those people who were killed on September 11? God bless America! Everything changed that day, and we all need to stand together with one voice and no discussion! How dare you? It's people like you who made September 11 possible!
I love the use of that word "dare" in the How Dare You Catechism. How dare we? My question is, what kind of country is America becoming when using our right to free speech now requires special daring? I've never considered speaking my mind to be a daring thing before, but now that the Bush Administration has warned us that "Americans need to watch what they say," are we supposed to understand that we're under threat? Are we going to be punished for asking honest questions about Bush's foreign policy?
Well, we hope not. That's why we'd like to see John Ashcroft limited to a four-year stint as Attorney General of the United States.
Be that as it may, the bald fact is that it doesn't do any harm, or even show any disrespect, to the families of the victims of "September 11" to question the policies of George W. Bush. The only harm and disrespect that such questioning causes is to George W. Bush, and to Bush's friends. So, this How Dare You Catechism is revealed as nothing more than a cheap mask for those who want George W. Bush to enjoy an entire term in office without being fully questioned by the American people he is supposed to be serving.
The How Dare You Catechism is nothing more than a cheap rhetorical misdirection by those people who don't believe that the American democracy is well-served by an active and curious citizenry. Of course, we always have the option of responding to the question "How dare you...?" by explaining precisely how and why we dare. Let's take this catechism of the September 11 Cult at face value, and recognize it as a wake up call about the need for a more vigorous public debate about the half-baked plans of the Bush Administration.
IS THE AMERICAN NATIONAL CHARACTER PERMANENTLY SCREWED?
This critical examination of the fetish of "September 11" leads us to a dim view of the current national character of America. Since Bush began his occupation of the White House, America has become known as a country of people who respond to crisis in two ways: Freak out and lash out. That makes America the Spastic Nation.
The good news is that it's not too late to turn this national character problem around. America is still a democracy, and that means that we have the opportunity to take frequent votes about what we'd like the character of our nation to be like. In an especially important national election, next year in November. We can confirm Bush's path of freak out and lash out, or we can decide that we've had enough, and choose a new national leadership that embraces a more reasonable level of negotiation, deliberation, and self-questioning.
The choice seems pretty clear to me. But, then again, I'm not a believer.
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