Does September 11th Matter?
Everyone, rightly, jumps up and down with enjoyable rage when anyone suggests that America had September 11th 'coming'. And of course, no one would defend crashing airliners into skyscrapers, nor the cause for which this act was carried out. What is madness, plain and simple, is a refusal to consider why 20 men (and twenty times twenty beyond them) were willing to do this. What did they think they were doing, and why? It's not good enough to say that this was just how they got their kicks. If that was the case, then there were an infinite number of murderous manners in which they could have actualised themselves. Why planes into buildings?
If we had remembered that question on that first dreadful morning, they'd have been defeated there and then. For what these terrorists wanted is what all terrorists want: they sought political change through violence. Thanks to a decade and more of first covert appeasement, then open collaboration with the Provisional IRA, we in this country have all but forgotten the highest shibboleth of anti-terrorism: what they do should change nothing. Change coming about, if at all, through exclusively constitutional and peaceful means. Yet that's the thing – nothing really has changed thanks to September the 11th. If we could but realise the truth of this, we would see all too clearly the magnitude of the defeat and failure Bin Laden and his ilk have suffered. Perversely, it is those who clamour loudest for war – the friends of the manic warnings about 'future attacks' and of numberless detentions without trial – who are handing victory to the terrorists. To apprehend our victory it is only necessary, but then, completely so, to realise, save for the slaughtered dead, September the 11th doesn't matter.
It certainly doesn't matter to the US military. Their stunning incompetence, along with all the other trillion dollar elements of the American national security state, in failing to prevent the slaughter of some several thousand of their wards having had, as yet, no consequences for a single, solitary officer of the state. Not one. More fundamentally, September the 11th hasn't altered pre-bellum US military doctrine. It has not 'reordered the cabinet of nations', nor has it altered America's default foreign policy posture.
Just as the response of the United States towards Palestinian terrorism against Israel is just as it would have been had an X-ray machine gotten lucky on September 11th, so too is, for example, her attitude to Irish terrorism just so. As and when Republicanism in this country resumes full-scale murder, wait and watch for the American response – it will be the same lack of a response that the US, before she too suffered a dose, would have offered us.
To try and remove the distorting lens of 9/11 from our vision of the last year, and therefore, of the future too, is really not that difficult. Consider simply all those things which excite liberal rage about the United States – Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, withdrawal from the ABM treaty – on and on it goes, and did September the 11th make a whit of difference to any of it? No, of course not, not least because some of it preceded the spirit supposedly inculcated by the horror. Though let's not forget the stuff Tories ought to get visible ants in their pants about, the steel tariffs, the farm subsidies, that sort of thing – did Bin Laden do this too? Again, no, not a bit of impact had he, one way or the other. He could have spent 2001 designing Al-Qaeda's entry for the Chelsea Flower Show for all the significance he's due. Or at least, that's how we should see things if it wasn't for the Pentagon's pom-pom girls in the press.
The key to fostering the delusion that September the 11th matters is to contend that we, or more pertinently, America is 'at war'. This is not a war; it is not something between states; it is a matter of low order (as trivial in their own way as the Israeli/Palestinian or Ulster conflicts are). The fact that it is not, despite the rhetoric, actually a war has certain, ineluctable consequences. Chief amongst these is that there is no enemy to defeat. What honestly is, or was, a bunch of yahoos in a cave in Afghanistan to the United States? Nothing, as Americans, with a curl of their collective lips, ought to have had the self-confidence to say. If Bin Laden were an immortal, globe-spanning superman, with a fresh, inexhaustible cohort of fanatical Muslim youth at his disposal – rather than being a rich lunatic, parasitically feeding off the gangster regime which ended the Afghan civil wars on top – what then? He could crash a fresh wave of planes, killing the same number of people, into American cities, in alphabetical order every year on the same date till the crack of doom, and what difference would it make to anything? It is precisely by conjuring an enemy purely of the mind, and therefore impossible to defeat by war, that the idea of an ongoing war can be sustained.
To look at this from the other side of the hill, in an effort to see why 9/11 doesn't matter, or to put that another way, why it didn't achieve what its progenitors hoped of it, what difference has it made to the goals of Mr Bin Laden? Whatever we think they were, and whether the man himself is still much bothered by them, we can fairly safely assume that they haven't been met. But then, precisely because of this failure, nor have they changed.
Looked at coldly, and trust me, this is what the history books will say, and in very short order too, for UBL, 9/11: tactically superb, strategically inept. The man had, by his own lights, rational causes – most probably the open and undeniable presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War (as opposed to any nonsense that it was the miserable Palestinians that got his goat). Having conceived of a reason to act, he then did, and, as noted above, with undeniable technical finesse. So having conceded all that to the brute what are we left with, which is to say, what is he left with? To ask the question is surely to see, well, nothing. It's not for me to say, but if I'd been him . . . killing, in random surges, US troops stationed overseas, that's the way I'd have gone about obtaining his goals, had I been foul enough to subscribe to them. As it was, the entirely predictable consequence of what he did do has been to copper-fasten the status quo Bin Laden so manifestly objected to.
We haven't got on our hands a war of civilisations, so if he was trying to start one Bin Laden failed there as well. 9/11 hasn't altered by one iota hatred of towelheads by those who already hated them; nor, admirably, has it led to an upsurge of hatred for Arabs by those previously indifferent to them. Just where does one have to look to see how little this date matters? It's had no real impact in the yapping dogs of the Anglosphere, and as for the real abroad, well you tell me, what of September 11th in France, or Germany, or Brazil? Difficult to say, isn't it? Even the one change it's tempting to attribute to it – the dip in the loopy enthusiasm for a war with China – saw, with Dubya's handling of the spyplane business, an entirely clear demonstration, well before 9/11, that the madness of the 'Chi-com' baiters was merely the chatter of a faction. The faction, mind you, keenest to proclaim war to the death against the invisible Mr Bin Laden. To take another of their causes – that the United States should start a war against Iraq – the balance of power within the administration has not been changed by 9/11. Those who'll have to fight are still against, and those who'll write it up in The Weekly Standard are still for it, and they wrestle on regardless.
The stupidest thing? The economy naturally. How many times have you read since last September that whatever the economic fortunes of whichever patch of the planet you sit on when you read Antiwar.com, it's magically, mysteriously, malignantly and mendaciously all due to 9/11? How anyone can believe this witchcraft is beyond me, but if for a second it were in some fantastical way possible, then – and maybe this was part of the whole UBL project, I don't know – ditching capitalism is one of the many, many things not to have happened, since, because of, or due to September 11th that we really ought to wish had.
It might seem wilfully perverse to insist that the only thing different about the post 9/11 world compared to the one that went before is the Manhattan skyline. Doing so is not simply an urge to deny the fruits of victory (which is to have achieved anything) to Bin Laden – though that should be a large part of our reaction. September the 11th can't matter because what gives the West its place at the pinnacle of human civilisation is the peaceful order our peoples know that they enjoy in sad contrast to the wretched of the rest of the earth. Bin Laden's bombs having failed to be anything other than a one day wonder, all that can take away that peaceful order, or freedom if you will, is the demand on us that we should make war where none need be made.
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