The 5 Different 9/11s Part 2: America, Afghanistan, and The War on Terror
Welcome back. Who’s ready to deep dive more into 9/11? Anyone? Everyone? In part one, I tried my best at crudely approximating what 9/11 means to a New Yorker (or anyone who had friends or family in or around Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, I just happen to now live in New York City). This week we’ll take a look at how the September 11th attacks affected the United States as a whole.
I’m electing to devote a later post to the rise of Islamophobia in America post 9/11 because I think it will fit into a larger religious narrative of the convening years since the event. With that in mind, this will be more of a broad examination of what has happened to America since.
In early 2001, America was a military force without an enemy. It had been a decade since the Soviet Union fell, and while there was mistrust of China and North Korea, there wasn’t an obvious “bad guy” for us to wave our big stick at.
The post 9/11 nebulous “war on terror” stepped in to fill the void left by the late Soviet Union. In a way, it was both a great fit and a terrible one. Fighting terrorism is a bit like trying to not get smoke in your eye around a campfire. You can change seats. You can fan it back. But it’s just kinda there, and tilting at vapor has loosely defined goals.
The major irony in this replacement, especially with regards to Afghanistan, is that we were now fighting our former allies against the enemy that they were replacing. It’s like the bizarro version of what occurred post World War II. Afghan warriors had been portrayed as badass good guys in American pop culture in the 80s. Don’t Believe me?
Like the Cold War’s arms and space races before it, it bred competition between the (many) sides. Only this time it was a pop culture and later social media fights. In the wake of the attacks and the subsequent wars fought under the pretenses of fighting terrorism, country music stars and conservative celebrities started pasting patriotism and American flags on to anything and everything. Likewise, Al Qaeda, and to a greater extent ISIL, leveraged budding online video sharing services to recruit new disaffected young men to the cause (again, more on this at a later date).
It’s easy to look back now at the blind patriotism in the early years of the millennium and either make fun of it or feel nostalgic, but it was very much a real thing. Most people I talk to nowadays act like they were always against the war in Afghanistan, or at the very least in Iraq, and while the latter might be more believable, some of y’all have to be lying about the former.
The polling research from post 9/11 is truly astounding as to how almost vengeful we were feeling. I’m not ashamed to admit that at twelve I fell into the trap of blind patriotism, I even had an Operation Enduring Freedom t-shirt procured from the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Am I loosely embarrassed by this, now, in the present? Not as embarrassed as I would be if I were reading this and hiding my dirty secret, no.
The larger point is that I, like many others, became disaffected towards US foreign policy regarding the Middle East over the course of the early 21st century. The September 11th attacks occupy this weird nexus of the American psyche, and as the long war in Afghanistan comes to a close, it’s impossible to fully divorce it from the events of that day.
Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam is not a great historical facsimile for multiple reasons, but especially when you consider the psychological atmosphere at the beginning of the war on terror. As a nation, we went through intense trauma, bonding a long protracted time of distrust and division fueled by all of the negative consequences of our quick decisions.
9/11’s ramifications go way beyond two long ill advised wars, the TSA, and The Patriot Act. The strong emotions of the day and days after fertilized, growing divisions in the nation that are only continuing to bear worse and worse fruit to this day.