Now that all the 9/11 10th anniversary news coverage has died down, I figured I might as well weigh in with my perspective, too.
But first, here is some excerpted text I wrote in this space exactly 10 years ago to the day, when “Into the Next Stage” ran on Saturdays:
“Looking back, this fourth day after the extraordinary, humiliating events of Sept. 11, one thing is certain: It succeeded.
“If terror was their objective, it worked, maybe better than even they had hoped. I certainly felt fear Tuesday while at my job … Apparently safe in sunny California, with thousands of miles between New York and Washington, D.C. and me, I was still scared. I know I wasn’t alone in that feeling.
“Processing the facts was not the difficult part. Four California-bound airliners, hijacked by this still-mysterious ‘them,’ three of those jets forced to crash into symbols of American economic and military might, the fourth jet ‘merely’ crashing into the earth. A death toll growing by the day. Damages in the billions of dollars.
“Comprehending the reality and magnitude of those facts, though, was numbing and enervating. Setting aside patriotism for just a moment, looking at what happened dispassionately, the perpetrators of what our president initially called a ‘terroristic act’ not only made it work, they were brilliant. Cunningly, cruelly brilliant. Not just for the physical and emotional damage wrought, but the psychological damage, too. …
“Many have made comparisons of Sept. 11, 2001 to Dec. 7, 1941. In reality, though, the planning and execution of this attack makes Pearl Harbor look like a walk in the park by comparison, especially when one considers that this time it was our own airplanes, weaponless, that were used against us to such devastating effect.
“But because it worked doesn’t mean it’s over. Far from it. The fear and anger can transmuted into resolve. Hopefully, though, it won’t become hatred. We must make sure that what happened to Japanese Americans doesn’t happen to loyal Arab Americans.”
Since 9/11, the good news is that Americans who practice Islam, as well as Arab Americans and other “suspicious” types in general were not subject to the mass removal and incarceration suffered by West Coast Japanese Americans during WWII.
The bad news, however, is that a few who fit the description of being connected to Islam or being of Arab or South Asian ancestry — U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, Pakistan-born failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, et al — certainly haven’t helped the public perception for law-abiding Muslims, Middle Easterners and South Asians in America.
But really, what were the lessons of 9/11? What has changed since then? And, though it’s controversial to say, did now-dead al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden actually win in terms of achieving some of his goals?
I’ve been thinking about what has changed, on a personal and macro level. Personally, in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, I’ve fathered two young children who still have no real inkling of the magnitude of what occurred just a few years before they were born. That’s fine with me — I’m happy that they still have some years of childhood naiveté and innocence left before learning about what a dangerous, unpredictable place this world can sometimes be and what brutal, despicable acts their fellow homo sapiens are capable of.
On a bigger scale, in the 10 years since as a nation, we’ve gotten entangled in two wars that are still ongoing, one of which I’m still scratching my head over as to how we got involved — I’ll just blame our Iraq misadventure on WMDs or weapons of mass deception. The justification for invading Iraq is still completely baffling to me. If, as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reportedly believes, their oil was our real rationale for invading Iraq, why hasn’t the public benefitted from cheaper gasoline prices? Yes, Saddam Hussein and his sociopathic sons have been terminated, but was it really worth it?
Thanks to the al-Qaida attacks, getting on an airplane is more inconvenient than ever. God forbid you’re a nursing mother with infant, trying to board with pre-pumped breast milk, or a cane-using senior citizen. Common sense has been trumped by the mental prison of zero tolerance. Even the man behind the legislation that created the TSA, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), thinks the governmental agency is a dud.
Also, the federal fiscal surplus we enjoyed for the first and possibly last time in my life as of Sept. 10, 2001, is long gone. Government at city, state and national levels here and around the world are in economic disarray, damaged in ways that will take years to fix. While the sorry state of economic affairs can’t all be blamed on the costs of prosecuting two prolonged wars, it’s safe to say those billions of dollars spent on them has sure as heck contributed to our woes.
The strange thing to me is that WWII, which mobilized this nation to fight two wars on two fronts, lasted less than five years in total, yet the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan just seem to drag on and on. Unlike WWII, when commodities like gasoline or car tires were rationed, metal drives took place for munitions and war bond drives to pay for the costs of war were commonplace, it’s possible to be completely disconnected from Afghanistan and Iraq if you don’t have family or friends serving in the military there. It’s like an abstraction to many.
We also have a future in which we as a nation will be obligated to rehabilitate and maintain the 31,191 soldiers wounded and maimed in Iraq, who in past wars would not have survived. (There have been 4,475 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.) How many millions/billions of dollars will that cost us for decades to come?
All of the preceding points to the objectives of al-Qaida and bin Laden. As I understand it, among his goals were terrorizing and spreading global jihad against the U.S. and the West, bankrupting us, spreading his brand of Islam and driving us out of predominantly Middle Eastern nations, especially Saudi Arabia.
Some of bin Laden’s objectives, like the 9/11 attacks, succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As for our precarious financial state, he’d probably like to take credit for that, too. Some of his other objectives failed, however.
In baseball, batting .300 — or hitting three out of 10 pitches — makes you a good hitter. So there is a strong argument to be made that bin Laden, wicked as he was, obtained many of his objectives. But in the bigger picture, both he and al-Qaida won’t be looked upon with any favor in the history books.
Thanks to that aforementioned resolve, the tide has seemingly turned against al-Qaida, not just militarily but in terms of winning hearts and minds of Muslims, especially when so many of the victims of this attack or that marketplace bombing were fellow Muslims.
With drone attacks and military engagements, al-Qaida appears at this juncture to be a shell of what it once projected itself to be. It took nearly 10 years but bin Laden is now gone, having gotten what he deserved.
So, 10 years later, unlike bin Laden and the Twin Towers, we are still standing —barely, it sometimes seems. But it beats the alternative.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
(George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2011 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.)