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Why 9/11 Doesn’t Matter

GB Geo-Blog

Why 9/11 Doesn’t Matter

The newspapers are filled with images and recollections from the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks, but no one seems to care. The online news sources are warning of a new terrorist threat on the 10th anniversary this weekend, but no one seems terribly scared. Americans, even in New York, appear preoccupied with other problems. Americans are also tired of terrorist warnings and remembrances. College students who barely remember the September 11, 2001 attacks, do not view them as transformative in any way.

Even a few months ago, I had predicted much more public introspection and mourning on this solemn 10-year anniversary. Why is this not the case? Why is the public so apathetic about such a significant milestone?

The best answer is that the attacks were traumatic, horrifying, and enormously destructive, but they did not change very much. New York City continued to grow and thrive as a center of world capitalism. Washington D.C. remained the capital for the only truly global superpower, despite the economic difficulties of the last three years. Although the United States embarked on new wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regions, most citizens (especially affluent professionals and college students) did not feel any pain. The lives of most Americans continued pretty much as they had before September 11, 2001. This was not a Pearl Harbor or Fort Sumter moment.

Some might view this analysis as evidence of American resilience. That is true. Terrorists can cause a lot of damage, but they really cannot challenge American power. Terrorism is a tactic with little long-term strategic value.

The frustrating element of American resilience is our society’s stubborn stagnation. We have changed very little since September 11, 2001, but maybe we really needed to change. Americans have continued to under-invest in infrastructure and education, as both crumble. Americans have burned ever-more fossil fuels, as our environment becomes disastrously degraded and erratic. Americans have continued to live beyond our means, as the piles of debt close off new economic opportunities.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 and their ten-year memory could inspire citizens to think in fresh ways about the long-term problems in our world, and the possibilities for new solutions. Courageous leaders would encourage these reflections as Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt did during the Depression and World War II, and Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy did during the Cold War. It is not the tragic events that re-shape a society, but the willingness of leaders to turn those events into productive experiences of self-sacrifice for larger purposes. For a decade we have lacked leaders of that caliber.

The last 10 years were a wasted decade. Americans refused to re-examine their behavior, they refused to investigate new possibilities, and they avoided collective sacrifice at all costs. Historians will look back on this period and condemn the pig-headedness of a people who were viciously attacked, and then stuck their heads in the sand. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were cover for a deeper denial that real behavioral change was necessary.

After a decade of such pathetic stagnation, why should anyone care about the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001? Our best hope is that the necessary changes of the next decade merit more reflection and celebration when we reach the 20th anniversary.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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  1. Matt Sponseller September 12, 2011

    I believe that some points are true in the fact that people are deciding to continue their lives normally just as they had before 9/11. However, 9/11 did change many things. The way we travel has changed drastically. The way that security has changed is drastic. The way that America deals with international affairs is defferent. Before 9/11, Americans did not really worry about traveling and security as much. Now, we must go through security at airports differently and security around the country is tighter than it was before the attack. America has definitely changed the way they deal with international affairs because before 9/11, actually, if 9/11 hadn’t happened, I believe that the wars in Iraq and Afganastan would not have happened. I believe that our non stop search for Osama bin Laden would not have occured. Many things are different because of 9/11, but the way we continue are lives has not really changed.

  2. Jeremi Suri September 12, 2011

    This is a very smart comment, Matt. I agree 100%. Some of our daily rituals and behaviors have changed. Our basic assumptions about absolute security, unrestricted consumption, and limitless economic growth have not changed. We act differently on the margins, but we are still living as we did before. Americans have resisted fundamental reform, even at our own peril. That has to change…soon!

  3. Matt Sponseller September 13, 2011

    Thanks for your reply. People still believe that we are the number one country in the world. I;m not saying I’m not patriotic or think our country is not great, rather I’m saying that we are not as powerful as we were maybe 10-20 years ago. Our decision to go into Iraq maybe one of the worst wars we have gotten ourselves into. I’m not that great with politics but what exactly was the purpose of our presence in Iraq? Was it really because they “had weapons of mass destruction”? Was it for oil? What was it for? How does the war in Iraq make us different? Not saying that we are like terrorists but going into another country and attacking them is what they did to us isn’t it? Again I don’t have all the facts but that’s my thought. Again thanks for your responce.

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