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What is 9/11's Legacy in American life?

September 08, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

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Ten years have passed since planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania killing thousands. There hasn’t been another major attack on American soil since then, but the country has been embroiled in two major wars -- as well as numerous smaller, more covert actions against suspected terrorists -- and critics say domestic security measures taken since then have undermined liberty at home.

What is the legacy of 9/11 in American life? Is the “new normal” acceptable? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, consider the matter.

JOEL MATHIS

It was common in 2001 to hear that America had “lost its innocence.”

Certainly, the country did seem to lose some of its nobility. Look no further than the films of Sylvester Stallone.

Laugh, if you like. For those of us who came of age during the 1980s, though, Stallone’s B-movie blockbusters also served as morality tales -- fantasies that illuminated the stakes of the Cold War against the Soviets. In “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” Communist evil was demonstrated when a Russian officer strapped Stallone to a metal stand and tortured him with electric shock.

The message was clear: Torture was for the bad guys. We were the good guys. That stance was affirmed in real life, when Ronald Reagan signed the U.N. Convention on Torture -- in part to shame the Soviets -- which prohibited the infliction of “pain or suffering” for the purposes of obtaining information.

We know now that America resorted to torture in the first years after 9/11, inflicting pain and suffering on terror suspects -- some of them bad guys, yes, but some of them innocent -- and almost never in a “ticking time bomb” scenario. At least three men were “waterboarded;” many others subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, and worse. Some of them died.

None of this is disputed. But Americans seem mostly fine with it.

Nobody has ever been prosecuted.

Stallone’s latest hit, incidentally, was “The Expendables.” In that movie, the villains strap an innocent woman to a table and poor water on her face and down her throat -- all but drowning her. It is a perfect demonstration of waterboarding. In some movies, at least, the bad guys are still torturers.

America is not the villain of 9/11: That distinction belongs to Al Qaida and the 19 men who hijacked planes that day. But are we the heroes of this decade? That’s tougher to say.

BEN BOYCHUK

Official White House guidelines for observing the 10th anniversary of 9/11 discourage officials from mentioning al-Qaida, downplay the fight in Iraq, and attempt to “present a positive, forward-looking narrative” about the events of that day.

The guidelines bring to mind an observation by Boston University political scientist Angelo Codevilla. “Defeat and victory are obvious and undeniable,” Codevilla wrote last year in the Claremont Review of Books. “Winners celebrate a better future; losers mourn a better past. Winners live confidently in peace; losers scurry after ever-receding mirages of it.”

Ten years on, America is not at peace. Our armed forces are still in harm’s way. Americans cannot board an airplane or enter an office building without being inspected as a would-be terrorist. And although the Department of Homeland Security has phased out its comical color-coded warnings, we’re still a nation perpetually at “orange alert.”

Are we safer? True, we haven’t had another attack on a skyscraper. And Osama bin Laden is dead.

Yes, but are we safer? Despite a decade of fruitless negotiations and sternly written letters, Iran’s nuclear weapons program continues apace. North Korea -- a charter member of the “Axis of Evil” -- is as belligerent as ever. Russia is resurgent. Venezuela is arming. Mexico is in chaos.

And, of course, China looms large. The People’s Liberation Army in 2007 shot down a satellite and Beijing this summer launched its first aircraft carrier -- the prerequisite for floating a true blue water navy.

“Americans like to see conflicts as finite, with a beginning and an end,” Brian Jenkins, a counterterrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, tells City Journal’s Judith Miller in her story chronicling New York City’s efforts to stave off another attack. “But that will not be the case in the struggle against terrorism ... It won’t end. It’s hard for any individual or government agency to accept that.”

No American should accept that. Either we live in peace, or we live in fear.

Original Source: http://www.scrippsnews.net/content/what-911s-legacy-american-life

 

 
 
 

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