Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 31 September 8 - 14, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Wrought By 9/11: Not What You Expected
Don Hazen and
Tai Moses and
The smoke and dust from the ruin of the World Trade Center towers has finally cleared and visitors to the site -- an estimated 3.6 million of them, according to the New York Times -- can now breathe easier as they gaze down into the hulking crater and up at the gap in the skyline that reveals the patch of new sky that came into view when the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.
Not much is left in that gash in the ground but a skeleton of scaffolding, construction in its earliest stages. What are they looking for, these curious millions? Are they remembering the past or imagining the future? It is safe to say that the future in which we find ourselves is very unlike the one we imagined on that dark day a year ago, the day when everything changed. And things have changed -- just not in the way we expected.
were you afraid of on Sept. 11? What frightens you today, one year later?
Chances are, the two answers are quite different. On that horrifying day, we had
a common enemy: the individuals who committed this unspeakable crime. Americans
had never been more united. But today, our fears have largely dissipated, and it
is no longer clear who the real enemy is. Despite the efforts of Ashcroft and
the Bush Administration to keep the public at a fever pitch of paranoia, most of
us are afraid of threats that are far more real than lurking terrorists,
"dirty" bombs or anthrax.
are afraid of corrupt corporate executives, afraid of what a crumbling economy
and a crashing stock market will mean to our jobs and our retirement savings. We
are afraid of predatory pedophile priests. Increasingly, we are afraid of our
own government. One year after 9/11, we are finally learning to distinguish real
menaces from manufactured hysteria.
this one-year anniversary, we revisit the pain and loss and disbelief of 9/11.
But it is no longer possible to view the act as isolated from the consequences.
New events, in many ways more far reaching, have overtaken it. In fundamental
ways, the tragedy of 9/11, which could have brought us wisdom and helped chart a
more sane future, has been taken away from us, devoured by our all-enveloping
media and twisted by political forces intent upon imposing their wills on the
with an agenda to advance has taken up 9/11 as an explanation, a rationale, a
reason for their point of view and way of thinking. This has provoked new
battles each day, as the Bush administration, loser in the popular vote and
elected by the Supreme Court, aggressively attempts to use the war on terrorism
to justify its destructive policies, from drilling for oil in Alaska and
expanding police powers to dramatically increasing the military budget and
unilaterally abrogating treaties that were signed years ago.
reason why our expectations post-9/11 were distorted is that the act was falsely
framed. A singular and unbelievably "lucky" criminal act carried out
by a small group of fanatics acting on behalf of no government was declared an
act of war by Bush, Cheney and the mainstream media. Viewed in this lens, 9/11
created an opportunity to initiate the perpetual war against terrorism that we
have been fighting ever since.
John Tirman, program director of the Social Science Research Council, writes,
"It is conceivable -- likely, even -- that the atrocities of Sept. 11,
2001, were a one-time catastrophe; if there is a determined network of
terrorists ready to strike again, expect them to set forest fires, not to ram a
truck into the Lincoln Memorial....The plain fact is that not a single, credible
threat has been revealed by the U.S. government since that sad day...The thought
that we need to spend $100 billion of tax money annually, and much more in
private funds and opportunity costs, to 'protect' against such a threat is, at
the least, questionable."
What We Gave Up
his first address to the nation after 9/11, President Bush said America had been
attacked for being a beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world. Yet over
the past year, his administration has done its best to deprive us of some of
those very freedoms. The U.S. PATRIOT Act (passed hastily and with little
dissent in October) was the first salvo in a series of new legislations aimed at
arming the government with an expansive array of powers, putting our very basic
rights, be it due process or privacy, in jeopardy.
of the most disgraceful consequences of post-9/11 hysteria was a rash of hate
crimes directed against people from the Middle East and South Asia. Overnight,
simply looking Arab created the suspicion of guilt. Anyone wearing a turban or a
scarf was a target not just for enraged citizens but also law enforcement.
has the Bush administration's agenda found greater expression than in U.S.
foreign policy, which shows signs of returning to its ugly Cold War roots. The
modest gains of the past decade have been wiped away within a year: Controls in
military spending, declassification of documents, limitations on the drug war,
renewed emphasis on human rights and environmental standards, negotiations with
Iran and North Korea, are now a distant memory.
United States has consistently undermined new multilateral human rights
agreements, including the creation of an International Criminal Court to try war
crimes and the international torture convention. Since Sept. 11, the Bush
administration has offered law enforcement or military training to a growing
list of new and old allies -- such as Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, Colombia and Indonesia -- who have shameful records of ongoing human
rights violations, including torture and assassination. In June, the president
asked for and received from Congress an additional $1 billion for training
programs and permission to lift all aid restrictions based on human rights
most significant change, which will have both international and domestic
consequences, is the skyrocketing increase in military budgets. In February, the
president proposed a $2.1 trillion wartime budget over the next five years,
which included $396 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2003 as well as
a contingency for another $10 billion to pay for the war in Afghanistan. The
Pentagon's total proposed budget will be the biggest since the Cold War.
"In combination with the tax cuts," John Tirman writes, "this
Pentagon spree is likely to sink the economy with deficit spending."
What Is Changing
is uncertain how much longer the Bush administration's preoccupation with the
war on terrorism will hold the public's attention, as citizens grapple with
real, day-to-day problems. Many signs point to a growing backlash that may soon
reach its tipping point. There is powerful momentum in the activist community as
groups organize protests against civil liberties abuses and the ongoing bombing
of Afghanistan. Groups like the ACLU have been working tirelessly to protect the
rights of immigrants. And many Americans are waking up to the reality that there
is a war to be fought, but it is not in Iraq. As Richard Grasso, chairman of the
NYSE said recently, "We've got to wage a war against terrorism in the
boardroom, against misleading investors."
is the public's loss of confidence in business and corporations -- the loss of
faith that corporate America could be counted on for our sources of wealth and
progress -- that will likely far outweigh the impact of 9/11 in the long run.
"Big business is increasingly viewed as the biggest threat to America's
future," writes pollster Ruy Teixeira in The American Prospect.
there any doubt that the chicanery of Enron executives and that of a growing
who's who of corporate CEOs has done more long-term damage to the U.S. economy
that the efforts of anti-American terrorists?" asked columnist Robert
Sheer. "We ought to wake up to the reality that business greed is
subverting the American way of life -- and hurting the image of American
capitalism and democracy --- more effectively than the ploys of any foreign
is no surprise that in the face of failed domestic policies, the stock market
plunge and tense Congressional contests, the White House has tried hard to put
the invasion of Iraq front and center. Yet public support for attacking Iraq is
dwindling and the false consensus built on fear and apathy is finally showing
signs of falling apart. An Aug. 23 USA Today poll shows just 53 percent of
Americans in favor of sending ground troops to the Persian Gulf, down from 74
percent in November 2001. The same poll found Bush's approval rating at 65
percent -- still healthy, but at its lowest since before 9/11.
of terrorism is now a distant fifth in the list of top issues in the upcoming
Congressional races. The economy is the number one issue for voters, followed by
Social Security and Medicare, education, and affordable health care. In a vivid
example of how restless the populace is growing with the direction of its
leadership, 56 percent of Americans now think the country is headed in the wrong
direction, up from 39 percent just one month ago.
of the most dramatic signs of the backlash are the woes that have lately plagued
Attorney General John Ashcroft, the main advocate for repressive legislation. In
a front-page article in July, the New York Times revealed that several members
of the Bush administration have expressed concern that Ashcroft "seems to
be overstating the evidence of terrorist threats." Even religious
conservatives, typically Ashcroft's most staunch supporters, "have become
deeply troubled by his actions ... They cite his antiterrorist positions as
enhancing the kind of government power that they instinctively oppose."
the heels of this revelation came an order by a federal judge demanding that the
Justice Dept. release the names of those detained after 9/11, some 1,200
immigrants of Arab and South Asian descent. Recently it was made public that the
secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, concerned about
Ashcroft's aggressive tactics, has ordered him to scale back his spying efforts
considerably. And then there is the downfall of the attorney general's pet
project, TIPS (the Terrorist Information and Protection System). After harsh
condemnation from across the political spectrum, and efforts (led by
arch-Republican Dick Armey) to ban the measure, TIPS is dead in the water.
Maturity in the Media
months after 9/11, the media treated virtually every announcement of an arrest
or bomb alert with a feeding frenzy, but little critical analysis. News coverage
was a constant flurry of dramatic events, stripped of their broader context,
thereby exacerbating the climate of fear. But the media is finally showing signs
of maturity, asking tough questions on a wide range of issues, including
civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the suspension of civil liberties and
constitutional rights domestically and the rampant corruption in many
anchorman Dan Rather is a bellwether for the mainstream media's change of heart.
Just after 9/11 many highly visible media commentators felt the need to prove
their patriotic credentials at the expense of their commitment to their trade.
Rather went on the David Letterman show to declare his fealty to George Bush:
"Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."
same Dan Rather recently admitted that many members of the U.S. media were
reluctant to ask tough questions about the war on terrorism out of fear of being
labeled unpatriotic. "What we are talking about here -- whether one wants
to recognize it or not, or call it by its proper name or not -- is a form of
self-censorship. I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values
that the country seeks to defend."
astonishing post-9/11 phenomenon has been the popularity of radical authors like
Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, who have each sold hundreds of thousands of
books highly critical of Bush and the war on terrorism. The popularity of these
writers "as dissenting authors has extended beyond the liberal fringe and
represents the fruits of a grassroots movement that corporate America and
potentially the government can no longer ignore," writes Eric Demby in the
battling with publisher Harper Collins to get his book distributed, Moore
promptly sold more than 500,000 copies of "Stupid White Men." The book
has perched on the New York Times bestseller list for 25 consecutive weeks,
sitting at number one for 13 of those weeks, making it one of the top sellers of
has become convinced, as he travels around the country, that he is no longer
preaching to the converted. "I look out at the auditorium and I don't see
tree huggers and the granola heads. I see Mr. And Mrs. Middle America who voted
for George Bush and who just lost $60,000 because their 401(k) is gone. And they
believed in the American Dream as it was designed by the Bushes and Wall Street,
and then they woke up to realize it was just that a dream," he told the
Chomsky's book "9/11," in which he calls the U.S. one of the world's
leading terrorist states, has passed the 200,000 mark, and has also sat on a
number of bestseller lists, surprising even Chomsky. "For many
people," he said, "the atrocities of 9/11 were a kind of wake-up call,
which has lead to considerable openness, concern, skepticism and
the nation reflects on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, Americans
struggle to make sense of it all. We are blanketed by media coverage from every
conceivable angle, confused by powerful emotions. In many cases, the lessons and
the personal sorrow of 9/11 have been exploited by the media: the attacks turned
into spectacle and the disaster site reduced to maudlin entertainment.
Michelle Goldberg writes on Salon, "Some people, perhaps many, visit Ground
Zero to pay their respects -- to get a sense of the enormity of what happened.
Yet, the atmosphere at Ground Zero is nearly devoid of somber reverence. It
feels like just another sentimental landmark, a place for people to get their
picture taken so they can tell the folks back home that they were there."
of our greatest challenges is to treat 9/11 with respect and sensitivity -- to
honor those who were lost and the sacrifices they made, and help each other with
the necessary work of moving forward.
has been a difficult year, but we are learning to put the event and its
aftermath into perspective. Many Americans now appreciate the profound
consequences the tragedy has had on individual lives, but they no longer allow
9/11 to exclusively shape their way of looking at the world. We are gradually
becoming more aware of what is truly important. On this anniversary of the
darkest day in American history, we must remind ourselves of what we still have:
the power and the means to make a difference.