The Legacy of September 11th

Today, Americans have been recalling the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in what has become an annual exercise in remembering the unforgettable. From all day cable news coverage of memorial events to memorial merchandise, we view that event as though it happened independent of events that occurred before or after. While the wounds that were inflicted by terrorists will heal, the self-inflicted wounds that occurred in the wake of those attacks will only heal if we first acknowledge them.

In the moments directly after the planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, officials in the Bush Administration were already determining how to include Iraq in a retaliatory response. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld both pressed President George W. Bush to attack Iraq. Ultimately the response was limited to Afghanistan, for the moment.

The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq had long reverberating effects not just on the United States but on the world. The Iraq war cost the country trillions of dollars, diverting investment away from the country’s investments in things such as infrastructure and education. Thousands of service members were killed or wounded. A cost that was nearly the exclusive burden of military families, as while the military was sent to war the country went to the mall.

The cost to the country of Iraq was even greater. Despite President Obama’s assurances that he ended the war in Iraq, the war continues. Hundreds of civilians die in dozens of bombings per week across the country. The damage to the country’s infrastructure during the initial invasion is still being repaired, and the damage to national artifacts will never be repaired. Iraq families have lost loved ones to sectarian violence and terrorist attacks, and continue to lose them to the effects of depleted uranium and white phosphorus used by the US military.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the attacks on September 11th were already having an effect on the very ideals and values that America had been founded on. The attacks were a massive failure of the countries intelligence community. Motivated by fear, the Administration and the Congress would make sure that the authority and the money would be available to ensure that failure was not repeated. But this would lead to the construction of an enormous national security state. The PATRIOT Act and domestic spying programs would erode Americans’ civil liberties, while at the same time creating a gigantic bureaucracy that did nothing to address the failures of September 11th.

The attacks had given members of Congress the carte blanche to open America’s check book and funnel billions of dollars to the Department of Defense and the intelligence agencies. Within a decade America would triple defense spending, and significantly increase spending on intelligence. Defense contractors were making billions of dollars off of government contracts, and donated millions in campaign contributions to the lawmakers to  The military-industrial complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about has come to full fruition.

The legacy of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 will be a nation guided by fear. A nation where the rule of law has been lost, as those that commit war crimes in the name of the so-called War on Terror face no consequences. A nation where civil liberties have been replaced by the police state, where privacy has been replaced by a surveillance state. A nation who never forgets September 11th, but always forgets who we were the day before.

Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: The U.S. Army, Thomas Hawk

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