20/20 hindsight on 9/11

See update for September 13, 2021, at end of post.

I needed my sleep.

But my neighbor, a friend from the Star Trek fan club chapter we were both members of, was banging on my door. “You have to see this,” he yelled.

It was September 11, 2001, and the scene on his television set (I didn’t have one) was of smoke rising out of a World Trade Center building. CNN would become notorious for endlessly showing again and again video footage taken of planes crashing into the towers.

“This should be interesting,” I replied. I knew nothing good could come of it. I tried and failed to go back to sleep because I had an eye appointment for an evaluation for a laser vision correction surgery later that day (it didn’t go well and as it turned out, financially, I was wasn’t ready).

We were in San Francisco, on the west coast. The World Trade Center was in New York City on the east coast. I didn’t know anyone in New York City at the time but it became apparent to me that many of my friends did and that they felt deeply affected.

I underestimated the evil that would emerge. Not only was there a pointless war of colonization in Afghanistan, but another equally pointless war in Iraq.[1]

Then there is the story of the plane whose passengers fought back and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I’ve now driven by—not stopped, but driven by—the memorial site a couple times. And as I see the seemingly obligatory U.S. flags perpetually flown in front of so many houses around Pittsburgh, I have to wonder if indeed the nationalist reaction to the 9/11 attacks didn’t somehow lead to Donald Trump’s turn in the presidency and hence, the coup attempt on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

That nationalism, in the guise of patriotism, is inescapably racist, even white supremacist, and xenophobic.[2] And yes, of course, all that predated 9/11.

It’s disappeared down the memory hole, but I remember the Bush administration demanding that young Arab Muslims should report for questioning and that those who responded disappeared. I later heard that many had been deported.

Certainly, yes, of course, bigotry predated the 9/11 attack. But I wonder now if 9/11 didn’t somehow legitimize that bigotry even before Trump. Certainly we are no less racist and xenophobic now; certainly we are no less exuberant in our proud displays of bigotry.

If with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, “the terrorists have won,” surely it is not just in Afghanistan or even in Iraq that they won.

9/11 left an ugly scar, whether you measure it by endless wars that killed orders of magnitude more people, likely mostly civilian noncombatants, than the original attack or by hatred toward nonwhites.

The claim that Amerikkkans are diminished by the failure of colonial war assumes that they were ever better. But slavery and the attempted extermination of American Indians casts severe doubt on that assumption.

It may well be that the worst outcome of all will be that, yet again, we have failed to learn.

Update, September 13, 2021 (originally posted late September 12,2021): Reportedly, Donald Trump visited the the New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department, departments that suffered heavy losses in the 9/11 attacks, yesterday (September 11th) on the 20th anniversary of those attacks.[3] This, in combination with a Republican decision to criticize Joe Biden for Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,[4] makes a partial outline of a Trump campaign for a return to the presidency in 2024 apparent.

Trump will likely rewrite the history of the Afghanistan war in a way similar to the right-wing rewriting of the war in Vietnam, in which the (brutal) U.S. conduct of the war was whitewashed; it was alleged that the U.S. ‘lost’ the Vietnam War because we had allegedly not fought to win and that the consequent humiliation of ‘defeat’ constitutes a form of treason and a betrayal of those (nonexistent) prisoners of war and missing in action we (had not) left behind;[5] and finally a ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ was invented to explain how the U.S. allegedly, but not really, became reluctant to deploy its military forces in the wake of that defeat.[6] The chaos of the evacuation from Kabul[7] will be compared to that from Saigon.[8]

It will be a nationalistic appeal to ‘patriotic’ Amerikkkans, reassuring them of U.S. claims to righteousness, but of course, only if the ‘treasonous’ Democrats are defeated. It will all be lies—as if we should expect anything else. And, at this moment, I don’t expect it to work among voters outside Trump’s base. But time will tell.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror ends in defeat,” Not Housebroken, July 2, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/07/02/george-w-bushs-global-war-on-terror-ends-in-defeat/; David Benfell, “Why do ‘they’ hate us?” Not Housebroken, August 15, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/08/15/why-do-they-hate-us/; David Benfell, “Undeserved criticism,” Not Housebroken, August 30, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/08/29/undeserved-criticism/; George Monbiot, “Bloodhounds,” August 27, 2021, https://www.monbiot.com/2021/08/27/bloodhounds/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “On patriotism,” Not Housebroken, June 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/27/on-patriotism/
  3. [3]WLNY, “Former President Donald Trump Visits NYPD, FDNY On 9/11,” September 12, 2021, https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2021/09/12/donald-trump-9-11-nypd-fdny-visit/
  4. [4]Karoun Demirjian, “Republicans say Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan is ‘dumber than dirt,’” Washington Post, April 13, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/republicans-afghanistan-biden/2021/04/13/7167a2f8-9c84-11eb-b7a8-014b14aeb9e4_story.html
  5. [5]Rick Perlstein, Invisible Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
  6. [6]The U.S. has had military forces deployed in some sort of killing expedition in every calendar year since 1941: David Benfell, “Us-wars,” Google Drive, September 12, 2021, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1bdIfIobiH1A7NZItE3FUI6zy0oh-D6eCK64t__5wBO4/edit?usp=sharing
  7. [7]Larisa Brown et al., “Planes leaving half empty after Taliban set up ring of steel,” Times, August 19, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/planes-leaving-half-empty-after-taliban-set-up-ring-of-steel-6rdvp2wdb; Naomi Conrad, Masood Saifullah, and Birgitta Schülke-Gill, “In Kabul, terrified Afghans wait for the call to safety,” Deutschewelle, August 18, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/in-kabul-terrified-afghans-wait-for-the-call-to-safety/a-58894365; Ben Doherty, Warren Murray, and agencies, “Afghanistan: reports emerge of Taliban beating Afghans seeking to flee Kabul,” Guardian, August 18, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/18/afghanistan-reports-emerge-of-taliban-beating-afghans-seeking-to-flee-kabul; Charlie Faulkner and Ben Farmer, “Desperate Afghans plunge to deaths from departing US planes as Kabul airport overrun,” Telegraph, August 16, 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2021/08/16/kabul-airport-chaos-thousands-overrun-tarmac-desperate-bid-escape/; Sayed Ziarmal Hashemi et al., “U.S. presses on with evacuations despite fears of more attacks,” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-08-27/evacuations-resume-after-kabul-airport-attack-bombings; Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, and Matthew Lee, “Biden to address chaotic Kabul evacuation amid criticism,” Associated Press, August 20, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-health-coronavirus-pandemic-kabul-taliban-d036db0b190acba68087f3d46ffae146; Kevin Liptak, “Biden decides to keep August 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan as evacuations accelerate,” CNN, August 24, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/24/politics/joe-biden-g7-afghanistan/index.html; Ezzatullah Mehrdad, Dan Lamothe, and Kareem Fahim, “Chaos persists at Kabul airport, imperiling Afghanistan evacuation effort,” Washington Post, August 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/airport-kabul-taliban-state-department-karzai/2021/08/19/5de79f4a-0105-11ec-87e0-7e07bd9ce270_story.html; Rachel Pannett et al., “Last U.S. military flight leaves Kabul; Biden to address nation Tuesday,” Washington Post, August 30, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/30/afghanistan-kabul-taliban-live-updates/; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “U.S. Airlift From Kabul Gains Speed As Afghans Defy Taliban In Several Cities,” August 19, 2021, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/taliban-blocking-airport-independence-day/31418029.html; Tim Shipman, “Tony Blair attacks Joe Biden’s ‘imbecilic’ Afghanistan retreat as Kabul chaos deepens,” Times, August 22, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tony-blair-attacks-joe-bidens-imbecilic-afghanistan-retreat-as-kabul-chaos-deepens-jw782ghxr; Barbara Starr et al., “ISIS terror threat forces US military to establish alternate routes to Kabul airport,” CNN, August 21, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/21/politics/kabul-airport-terror-warning/index.html; Yaroslav Trofimov, “Afghanistan’s Taliban Seize Jalalabad as Panic Grips Kabul,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/afghanistans-taliban-seize-jalalabad-as-panic-grips-kabul-11629005282; Yaroslav Trofimov, Dion Nissenbaum, and Margherita Stancati, “‘Saigon on Steroids’: The Desperate Rush to Flee Afghanistan,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saigon-on-steroids-the-desperate-rush-to-flee-afghanistan-11629071999; Yaroslav Trofimov, Nancy A. Youssef, and Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Kabul Airport Attack Kills 13 U.S. Service Members, at Least 90 Afghans,” Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/afghanistan-kabul-airport-explosion-11629976397
  8. [8]Rick Perlstein, Invisible Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).