Well, we made it, we have finally reached the end of our 20 year retrospective on the September 11th attacks and their effect on the United States, our allies, and global foreign relations. Over the past few months we’ve covered four different aspects of the fallout of 9/11, from US domestic and foreign policy, to the arts, and the impact of religious and political extremism with regards to terrorism. In my reading on the subject over the past few weeks the word “inflection point” kept surfacing. An inflection point is defined as a moment where significant change occurs or may occur.
We’ve covered many of the ways the events of that day are still impacting us now, but are they enough for it to add up to being an inflection point in human history?
What I mean is, is it definitionally the moment of significant change of our lifetimes? I think you get different answers to that depending on who you ask and when you ask in the past 20 years, which maybe makes a case against its importance. I get this might be subjective on some level, but at the same time we ought to try to properly place it in time not as we saw it, but as we insist it must be seen in the future.
So, in America at least, is our modern history really defined as pre-9/11 and post-9/11?
You could argue from a foreign policy perspective, that yes, that is completely the case, but is our intervention in smaller countries outside of the typical western influence an advent of September 11th, 2001? Of course not. No superpower in the history of the world hasn’t meddled in the affairs of other nations to the perceived benefit of the grander state. What’s more, many times, as we discussed, it involves Afghanistan!
If all 9/11 did from a foreign policy perspective was redirect our “nation building” apparatus from Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe to the Middle East, what were it’s lasting impacts on US domestic policy?
Sure there is the Patriot Act, which was and still is a massive shift in the United States government’s interest in and resource allocation to spying on its own citizens, but that was something that other nations had been doing for years. Not just authoritarian regimes like China, but “free” nations like the United Kingdom as well.
The true elephant in the room with regards to privacy is the rate at which our technology has expanded. Most of the data governments had been collecting on its citizens was practically useless compared to what was on the horizon. Intelligence agencies were getting outpaced by nerds trying to sell ads to users who were willing to offer up nearly limitless personal information for convenience or popularity.
So, yes the Patriot Act allows the government to surveil you in ways it was previously barred from doing, but your private life is so much less private than it was in 2001 that it’s somewhat hard to tell if that wouldn’t have been the case regardless. Imagine, today, in 2021, you found out that Blockbuster video sold your mailing address and home phone number without your permission in 2005. To what extent does that violation of your privacy concretely affect how compromised your information is today?
Probably the most impactful post 9/11 shift was the increase in Islamophobia in the US, especially in the years immediately after the attacks, but from a national discourse perspective it still hasn’t seemed to reach the heights of our other, more uniquely American, forms of bigotry.
When they catch suspected terrorists trying to enter America on foot across the southern border, it makes news for a while, but right wing media continues to center border security around Hispanic undocumented immigrants.
Every police shooting and response from 2014 until now has shown that there is no pre/post-9/11 regarding America’s original sin. It’s not worth getting too deep in the woods on comparative oppression, but it’s not worth dismissing that you can attempt to commit terrorism in New York City in mid September and be arrested, or you can be a kid playing with a toy gun in Cleveland and be shot dead.
My larger point is that, we were, and sometimes still are, so sure that 9/11 is one of if not the main historical inflection point of our lives. The problem is we have absolutely no idea if that’s true, and what’s more we seem to have a growing pile of evidence that it’s not the case.
This isn’t meant to be nihilistic about our experiences, but to ask us to keep an open mind about our place in time. Especially, as we are coming out of the pandemic, another time we insist on being an inflection point in human history. That may wind up being the case, but how much did you learn about the 1918 pandemic? If you weigh its death toll on the extremely conservative side and ours on the highest estimates it was still over ten times worse.
Their will definitely be vestiges of 9/11 with us forever, like taking our shoes off at TSA (a thing actually brought about by a different attempted attack two months later), just like we have the 1918 pandemic to thank for New York apartments being so stifling in the wintertime (a thing we all learned last year). The question is will future generations never forget where those vestigial appendages of our society came from?