Twelve years ago today, a cell of angry, highly committed, and (by the standards of their peers) extremely well trained young men executed the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners, and used them to mount a suicide attack on those they perceived as their enemies.
What have we learned from this?
I thought it was an interesting question, and I left an answer in the comments on his post. I’ve decided to expand on it a bit here.
I don’t know what we learned, but I learned that my country was a hell of a lot closer to reverting to totalitarianism than I thought. We didn’t go all the way, or even get very close, but for years after 9/11, every moderate voice was shouted down as we stampeded away from freedom.
I learned that many people thought that the wall between national intelligence and domestic law enforcement was a flaw that allowed 9/11 to happen, rather than a carefully constructed bulwark against tyranny After various abuses in the latter half of the last century, we made the explicit decision to rein in the security state by keeping those two activities separate. But after 9/11, a lot of people started insisting that this was a loophole we had to close. (Happy now, bitch?)
I learned that surprisingly few people thought that “Patriot Act”, “Homeland Security”, and “If you see something, say something” had creepy totalitarian overtones.
I learned that airport security could get much, much, much, much more annoying than it already was. And that my fellow Americans really don’t seem to mind having internal checkpoints.
I learned that there’s no such thing as a temporary security measure. When Congress started discussing emergency temporary security measures in the form of the Patriot Act right after 9/11, I remember thinking that, yeah, it could be a worthwhile tradeoff to tighten security for, say, the next 90 days, just to try to head off any terrorist plots in motion. Instead, Congress passed the Patriot Act with a two-year expiration, and then when it was about to expire, a bunch of national-security panic-mongers acted like the expiration date was a terrible oversight that had to be remedied, rather than an intentional policy decision.
I learned that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry was more common than I realized, although not as bad as it could have been.
I learned that every government agency in the country was willing to exploit fear of terrorism to get more money and power (and Lenco Bearcats — they really wanted those things). And that it would work out very well for most of them.
I learned that just because a President’s most vocal critics are idiots, that doesn’t translate in any way to redeeming qualities for the President.
I learned that grabbing foreigners and torturing them is something we do now.
I learned that when some pundits and politicians argued in favor of sacrificing personal liberties for national security, they don’t really mean the word sacrifice, because they don’t actually see us losing our liberties as a loss.
I learned that just because our leaders want to do a good thing (“Let’s democratize the Middle East!”) doesn’t mean they actually have a plan that will work. Really, I knew this before, but I somehow thought military planning would be more realistic…I don’t know why.
I’ve learned that the FISA courts act on a much broader scale than I ever anticipated. They don’t just let the NSA look at some people’s records, they let the NSA look at all our records.
I learned that after all the tough talk about the evils of the Bush administration, once the Democrats were in power they did nothing to punish anyone, and they took everything Bush did and ran with it.