Academic journal article Policy Review

September 11 & September 10

Academic journal article Policy Review

September 11 & September 10

Article excerpt

THE TERRORIST ATTACK on the United States on September 11, 2001, invited, if it did not indeed compel, wholesale reconsideration of the times we live in and the way we live in them. What once seemed to most Americans like a period of unprecedented prosperity and peace, now -- with the towers collapsed, the Pentagon scarred, and more than 6,000 dead -- seems more akin to a period of sustained illusion. We are thoroughly alienated from the point of view that was our very own September 10 and before: namely, that things were pretty good in and for the United States of America. Now -- standing as the United States does between the opening salvo and the final volley in a war that is both necessary to win and entirely a matter of conjecture as to its course, duration, dimensions, and lethality -- most everything we thought September 10 has been superannuated.

Some have said that this is not the same country it was September 10, or that the world changed forever September 11. But that amounts to an exercise in displacement. The world on September 10 was exactly the one in which the forces leading up to the next day's events had long been gathering. The country September 11 was the one whose history in its entirety shaped the response to that day (and an encouraging response it was). No, what has changed is each of us, in a universal reaction taking as many particular forms as there are people -- anger, sadness, fear, gratitude, love, restlessness, and more, in every imaginable combination, having in common only that each was real not just in itself but also in the gulf separating it from what one felt September 10. It is as if the frame of mind of September 10 was negated as decisively as the lives of the victims -- repudiated with finality. Whatever we might have been thinking September 10, we were wrong. [1]

Of course, some people emerged, with varying degrees of insistence and taste, to say that they had told us so. Some suggested that if only we had listened to them, we might have prevented this attack, or that if only we had pursued a different policy course, we might have fared better, or, at a minimum, if only we had truly heard them, we would at least have been prepared in our own minds with a better understanding of the true character of the world in which we live. A few of them had genuine insights to offer, but in the main, these claims to the gift of prophecy were overblown. Once something catastrophic happens, we can see with perfect clarity what we "should" have done. But not necessarily before the catastrophe, when the very things that it will turn out we should have done are competing with all the other things we might do or not do. This is not intended as a counsel of fatalism or passivity; one does one's best to anticipate and ward off trouble on the strength of one's convictions about which possi bilities are more likely than the others. But one's best may not be good enough. The Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared," is both good advice to follow and an impossible standard to meet. And it is only when we turn out not to have been prepared, by the arrival of something for which we were unprepared, that we become fully aware of our condition of unpreparedness.

The highly particular exercise in recriminations undertaken at the direction of the soothsayers who were correct in this case is, I think, petty in comparison with the massive recriminations under way within the breast of most of us, the soothsayers included. This is a far larger matter than what more we could or should have done to prevent the attack or mitigate its effects. It amounts to a change in the totality of our sense of ourselves, a full-scale revision of the opinion we ourselves had of ourselves as recently as September 10. How could we have been so wrong-headed? How could those have been our preoccupations, those our grievances and complaints and sorrows, those our desires, those our expectations, those our priorities?

Well, we have indeed changed. …

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