We are a country held hostage by fear.
It’s difficult to go through an airport these days -- and I go through
lots of them here and around the world -- without doing some serious
soul-searching about it. The famous question repeats itself over and over
again in the tiniest of ways in me: Are we better off today than we were
five years ago?
In Asia, for instance, I do not need to take off jackets and jewelry
and buckles and cell phones as I go, not even my shoes.
In Europe there are no body scans and puffers as there are in
This week, we celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of our podcast, NCR in Conversation. Catch the latest episode here.
In Africa and South America, they do not submit my computer to body
scans of its own.
In those places, I forget for a moment that in the United States I live
behind a wall that the world dare not penetrate. I forget for a while that
we are a city under siege. I forget that I am going in and out of an armed
camp called “the land of the free, the home of the brave.”
What I cannot forget when I read the morning papers is that once upon a
time, in the not too long ago, we didn’t live this way. What happened?
If the question were asked about baseball instead of politics, somebody
would be keeping a box score, a chart of gains and losses. In fact,
managers and players would be hired and fired on the basis of it. But not
in politics. Not us. Instead, we re-elect politicians to “stay the
So what is “the course”?
There’s nothing esoteric here. Read the front page of any newspaper and
the direction is clear.
Instead of working with moderate governments and the world community,
instead of courting public opinion and international support, instead of
trying to understand the U.S. image around the world and working to change
it, instead of asking why gleeful children danced in the streets when the
Twin Towers fell, instead of doing something positive to correct it, we
fed right into it. We did the frontier thing and began to kill people
ourselves. As in “That’ll show ’ em who’s boss.” Except that it
So what has it done?
By defining the attack on the Twin Towers as the declaration of global
war, it has made global war a reality. As a result, it provides an excuse
for any authoritarian government to call its dissenters “terrorists” and
suppress them. So much for the freedom of speech we like to say we’re
seeding around the world.
By launching high technology weapons against countries whose armies are
under equipped and whose borders are porous, we have even managed to
reinstitute a nuclear arms race. Iran and North Korea have joined the new
race out of fear of what might happen to them if in the future they, too,
fall afoul of either our bad intelligence or our horrendous swashbuckling
and our unilateral decree that they are evil and in need of regime
In the face of almost half a century of negotiated peace and global
understanding with Muslim nations from Africa to Indonesia, 19 terrorists
managed to create what is now called -- assumed to be -- a “clash of
civilizations” rather than a plague of religious extremists it so
So we fight in the dark everywhere, claiming thousands of innocent
lives and few “terrorists.” We do it against those who claim no flag, no
government, no terms of peace, and we may never know if we have managed to
defeat them or not.
While old ladies and small children go on forever removing their
jackets and shoes and cell phones in U.S. airport security lines, the
United States has been exposed as a torture state.
The government refuses to submit its military behavior to an
International War Crimes Tribunal and so, as far as the rest of the world
is concerned, admits that its behaviors are in question.
And all of this on account of 19 politically independent, unauthorized
fanatics. They provoked from us an all-out irrational response against the
wrong people and now the whole world is asked to take sides.
Meanwhile -- has anybody noticed -- Osama bin Laden is still free
somewhere and sending us tapes? The Taliban have returned to Afghanistan.
Millions of civilians have either left Iraq, are internal refugees in
their own country or have been killed there in order to protect them.
And here, in the United States, paranoia grips the land. The
Constitution is being shredded one line at a time. We are facing a
decade-long moratorium on social issues, because all our money is going
into war against whom we don’t know and where we’re not sure. In the
meantime, the richest country in the world cannot have universal medical
insurance, day care services, subsidized housing or welfare programs, and
the army is where the young go to get an education. If they make it back
in any condition to go to school.
No, the world did not change after 9/11. We did.
The question is , what else could we possibly have done? Is there any
kind of response that would have been more effective than what we did? And
if so, why aren’t we doing it?
From where I stand, it isn’t that 9/11 did not demand a response. It’s
that the response we made has the smell of inanity. In fact, we may have
done more to harm ourselves as a result of our response to it than any 19
-- 19! -- terrorists could ever have hoped.
Just $5 a month supports NCR's independent Catholic journalism.
We are committed to keeping our online journalism open and available to as many readers as possible. To do that, we need your help. Join NCR Forward, our new membership program.
Looking for comments?
We've suspended comments on NCRonline.org for a while. If you missed that announcement, learn more about our decision here.