The lethal attacks of September 11, 2001 shook the USA in tremendous ways and still reverberate powerfully today. In our hyper-media age, the moving pictures and countless tributes and memorials to the nearly 3000 victims of this catastrophe have riveted the nation and hopefully made us all more reflective. While I honor and empathize with the continued deep sufferings of the 9/11 victims’ families, perhaps after ten years we can draw out some additional perspective aside from the ongoing grief.
One 9/11 lesson is that most supposedly educated Americans had no awareness of the omnipresent fact of the very existence of an American empire — an overwhelmingly obvious fact to most of the rest of the world. In the very early 1990s President George H.W. Bush spoke of a “new world order” which much of the rest of the world plainly saw as a euphemism for the American Imperium. With the 1989 collapse of the USSR’s “evil empire,” continuing American hegemony seemed assured. We can note the beginning of the discredited neoconservative theory of “American Exceptionalism” at this moment, which others would label strategic or feigned ignorance.
History shows us that others, not only “barbarians and terrorists,” always develop a fear or hatred of the reigning power of the day. After 1989, the American Colossus arrogantly bestrode the globe, Clinton fostered unprecedented prosperity at home, the national debt was small, and Americans blissfully assumed we were still viewed internationally as the
“good Americans” versus the evil empire. Where were social studies and history education?
When the dust settled around the twin towers and the true number of 9/11 deaths tallied closer to 3000 than the first reports of 7000, the shock of most of my fellow US citizens remained intense. Fear consumed the nation, and continues to cloud our thinking today.
Our President at the time, the former yell-king and failed businessman, Bush the Younger, reacted as only a childish uneducated man could: Revenge! The Yale “C” student had almost never traveled abroad and consequently had no respect for world opinion or international treaties. Thus began the ridiculously named “War on Terror” which we know today should have been a heavily-funded but finely-tuned international police action against tiny bands of devious and lethal terrorists based not in Iraq but in Afghanistan, our erstwhile ally Pakistan, and other remote areas of the world.
Ten years on, where are we? What lessons have we learned?
The USA has an enormous national debt approximating $45,000 per citizen due to an ill-conceived and misdirected series of punitive military adventures: Afghanistan 1 when we drove out the Taliban and the ongoing debacle in Iraq.
While the cheerleader President was cutting taxes for the hyper-wealthy in 2002, he initiated a war against Saddam Hussein whom he managed to conflate with Osama bin Laden in the minds of most shocked and ignorant Americans. Never before in US history have we waged a major war without simultaneously increasing taxes to fund the enormous costs associated with military action. Bush, Cheney and some of the hyper-rich waved the bloody flag of revenge in order to enrich their class. Bin Laden was a Saudi, but we were and remain supplicants of the corrupt Saudi monarchy.
When Bush got more confused, like a frustrated early adolescent, he again reacted violently by attacking Afghanistan a second time (Afghanistan 2), where we remain mired in a senseless, bloody, and expensive war which we refuse to fund properly (thus adding more to the national debt).
By 2008, the failed President was leaving office as the Empire’s real estate bubble was bursting and, with President Obama’s timely help, a massive cash bail-out saved the big banks and hedge-fund managers thereby preserving financial stability — at enormous cost, and again without raising taxes. Big players like Goldman Sachs were “heroically” saved, and Wall Street kept its growing share of the pie. President Obama lacked the political courage to initiate a second bailout for working class Americans. Wall Street was covered; the working man was not.
These American citizens of the hegemony — over 8 million of them still out of work (mostly older white males) — are victims of three factors: 1) George Bush’s orchestration of American outrage over 9/11 into senseless revenge attacks abroad with an attendant swelling of the national debt, 2) the American hyper-wealthy class’s greedy seizure of their cut of the imperial pie when they clamored for an enormous tax-cut during a time of war, 3) the average American’s deep ignorance of the true state of international affairs based on poor history education as well as strategic ignorance. There is such hysteria over math education in the USA whereas we see no pressure to revitalize history and social studies education (see Martha Nussbaum’s Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities).
Wall Street’s domination of the political class can be seen in its refusal to strengthen the SEC and clean up the executive pay scandal. Google “Abramoff” or the commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence. Look at how the plutocratic Republican House of Representatives treated Elizabeth Warren. The radical anti-worker Tea Party Republicans’ refusal to support restoration of 2001 tax rates on the hyper-wealthy should amaze. We see a powerful combination of the Republican hyper-wealthy led by Senator Mitch McConnell , Republican of Kentucky, and the nativist Tea Party Republicans who frame the debate.
What lessons have we learned from the horrors of 9/11? Do we accept that we have a global empire today and that it is in decline due to our own actions? Can we perceive how President Obama has transformed into a political eunuch, helpless in the face of the reigning plutocracy who want their money and absurdly low tax rates? Is American ignorance of the true state of affairs feigned unawareness or is it due to a decimated public education system pathetically weak in history and social studies teaching?