The prevailing sentiment over the United States as we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attack has been one of ineffably deep sadness, but of one kind: the sadness of loss. We have felt enormous loss individually and collectivity.
Missing has been the sadness of regret or remorse. For the most part, the news media and celebrations have not conjured the damage done to thousands of our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as part of our reaction to the barbarism committed 15 years ago. We did not think of the global torture gulag we created in reaction to 9/11, nor of the physical pain and mental anguish we inflicted on hundreds of men—some innocent bystanders, others our sworn enemies, but all fellow human beings. We did not think of the irrational Islamophobia that rages among certain parts of our population, and which has led to domestic discrimination and violence. We did not think of our national degradation still operating in Guantanamo. We did think of the thousands of soldiers with terrible physical and psychic wounds still clogging our veterans hospitals, but we glorified them instead of viewing them as more victims of a senseless war.
To contemplate the brutal stupidity which characterized many of the actions taken in the name of the United States and individually by U.S. citizens as a response to 9/11 undercuts the image of the United States as an innocent country, a pure victim, which was a major theme of the commemorations.
But not to think about these ugly truths prevents us from learning from our mistakes.
If we factor out 9/11 from the statistics, we would find that deaths from terrorism in the United States are way down since the days of rage of the 1960’s and 1970’s. As it is, individual acts of terrorism are way down. This reduction of violence by those opposed to our government and/or our way of life fits neatly into the overall crime trends: Murders are way down compared to 50, 40 and 30 years ago. Violent crime is way down. The murder of police officers is way down. Except for the minority of Americans who keep firearms in our homes, we are much safer and live in a much less violent society than we used to.
And yet Republicans, and their reality TV candidate Trumpty-Dumpty, have managed to convince millions of people to cower in fear and consider irrational and sometimes un-American tactics. They present magic elixirs that will only make us less safe: loosening gun control laws, when in fact, those who live with guns are more likely to get hurt or killed by them than those living in the most unsafe neighborhood in America; reinstituting “waterboarding and worse,” as Trumpty-Dumpty put it, which doesn’t work, is illegal and will prove to many that what ISIS says about us is true; fomenting Islamophobia, Latinophobia and other forms of racism, which only further enrages those who hate us.
Generally speaking, the Republicans seem unwilling to learn any of the lessons from 9/11, mainly because they are unwilling to admit that violent crime and domestic terrorism are down and that throwing our military weight around internationally doesn’t work. When it comes to how we prevent and address terrorism in the United States, the Democrats have learned much from our mistakes following 9/11, as demonstrated by their platform, the inclusiveness of their party, candidates and convention and the measured words they use when characterizing our enemies.
Internationally, if the Republicans are D students, we can only give Democrats a C+ at best. The Dems won’t return to torture and are more likely to achieve a solid peace with Iran. But both parties accept the basic premises that have guided U.S. foreign policy since World War II. Both sides of the aisle seem dedicated to using our armed forces and our treaties to protect the business interests of large international companies, butting our noses into the business of other countries and playing a geo-political game for hegemonic control of other regions of the world.
Until we turn to a foreign policy based on engaging the world, not dominating it, we will not fully learn the lessons of 9/11. Another easy choice: Trumpty-Dumpy is dedicated to dominating; it’s in the essential nature of his dangerous narcissism. Hillary talks about engaging the world instead of dominating it, but her past actions and current proposals show she’s of two minds. Better than Trumpty-Dumpty and better enough to deserve our votes, but still not good.