The Aftermath of 9/11 – Has it Been Worth It?

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Today marks 18 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center changed the world forever, and not for just the States of America. 19 terrorist hijackers primarily from Saudi Arabia – 15 of them held Saudi citizenship, two were from United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon and one from Egypt – seized control of four aircraft flying cross-country routes from Boston, Newark, NJ and Washington, D. C., to California (Los Angeles and San Francisco). Loaded with jet fuel, the terrorists utilized the planes as weapons, employing training that they had received at flight schools in the U. S. to pilot one plane each into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon in Washington and, after an uprising of the passengers on the flight, a forced crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended destination of the White House or Capitol Hill, home of the U. S. Congress.

The results of the 19 terrorists’ actions were immediate and numbing. 2977 people – and not all of them ever had any physical evidence of their existence ever recovered from the wreckage – were killed in the four instances, the worst terrorist attack on U. S. soil in the country’s history (the 1941 attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor technically did not occur on U. S. soil as Hawaii was a territory of the U. S. at the time, not a state). And, much like when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the response from the country was swift and powerful. But the question has to be asked – 18 years later in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, has it been worth it?

In the days following 9/11, first responders sifted through the rubble of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, trying to find any survivors and, when it became apparent that there were no survivors, recover the bodies of those who were killed in the attacks. Meanwhile, the presidency of George W. Bush aggressively moved to act against an unknown opponent. In an address to Congress mere days after the attacks, Bush announced that a “war on terrorism” needed to be conducted and, with the blessing of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, received virtually everything that was asked, including wide-sweeping mass surveillance of citizens of the U. S. (the Patriot Act of 2001) and broad ability to conduct military actions anywhere in the world.

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That thoroughly expected military action is still ongoing. As a part of the actions given to the Bush administration, on September 14, 2001 a broad Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) was granted by Congress. This allowed the Bush administration to immediately attack – without the consent of Congress, who is the body that has the right to declare war against another country – anyone viewed as “responsible for the attacks of September 11” and any “associated forces.” The AUMF has since been used by subsequent administrations.

There has rarely, in the history of the U. S., been two documents that affected the future as much as the Patriot Act and the AUMF. With the Patriot Act, it became possible for the government itself to spy on its own people, something that would have been abhorrent to the founders of the country or, even more recent, those that fought against oppressive governments in Germany, Japan and Italy in World War II. With the AUMF, it basically allowed the government to wage war virtually anywhere in the world in the name of the “war on terrorism;” it has been used to justify military actions by not only the Bush administration but those of President Barack Obama and the current occupant of the White House in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Syria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia, among others.

But other, uglier actions arose from 9/11. Now called “hate crimes,” attacks against Muslims, Middle Eastern “looking” people, people of Asian descent (Sikhs in particular, who wear turbans that are erroneously confused with being associated with the Islamic faith) and others precipitously rose, blaming them for the actions of the 19 terrorists. This included taunting people in public and burning mosques all the way to killing people, when white supremacists took lives of those that “looked like terrorists” or were “towel heads” in a murderous rampage. It is arguable that these actions go on to this day.

Citizens themselves are not absolved of any responsibilities or blame for the devolvement of society since 9/11, either. If Watergate damaged the image of the country in peoples’ minds, the 2000 election controversy between Bush and former Vice President Al Gore and the actions of 9/11 totally destroyed any belief in a “just” government. These shattered thoughts and beliefs have tumbled over the past two decades into a massive snowball that ravages the psyche of the country in an avalanche of unsubstantiated thoughts and “alternative facts,” weaponized by extremists and employed by those to justify their philosophies.

Beliefs that the U. S. were a part of a “New World Order” (a phrase, ironically, uttered by Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush) brought about the idiotic conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an act by the Central Intelligence Agency and other nefarious operators, both domestic and international, to take freedoms from the citizens of the U. S. The use of fraudulent intelligence by the Bush administration that led to the Second Gulf War and the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein further ripped the fabric of the country. And the virulent rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle – that if you didn’t fully support “American” action, then you weren’t a “true American patriot” – contributes even today to the massive schism that exists in our political process.

The costs of the “war on terror” brought by the 9/11 attacks also have to be questioned. The human toll is striking and depressing simultaneously – the U. S. military has seen roughly 7000 deaths and tens if not hundreds of thousands of injuries from operations contributable to the “war or terror.” The civilian cost is estimated to be conservatively 1.3 million deaths, although some estimates set the total closer to four million. And the costs to cultural, religious and historic areas – ISIS has destroyed many sites of antiquity in their version of the “war on terror” – are too numerous to mention.

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The human costs are arguably the most important thing, but the financial costs of continuing the “war on terrorism” are approaching astronomical figures. Since 2001, it is estimated that the three U. S. presidential administrations that have conducted the “war on terrorism” have spent $7.6 TRILLION pursuing terrorist targets around the world and added $2.4 TRILLION to the U. S. budget deficit. This isn’t counting what other nations, including our NATO allies, have spent in their support of the actions following 9/11.

What has all of this brought to the U. S. and the world? “Terrorism” is something that can never truly be snuffed out. It is an action that dates back to biblical times (a Jewish group called the Sicarii would use concealed daggers to execute their targets in large crowds before slipping away and the Hashhashin, an Islamic sect, were a terrorist group in the 11th century that employed terrorist killings – the group’s name is where the word “assassin” comes from) but, in recent history, has moved from a “nation-state” action to a tool used by an individual political, religious or social group that has no traditional physical base of activity. It is one of the reasons that al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11), despite the protestations of the current administration, continues to thrive around the world.

And what has been the collateral damage from the aftermath of 9/11? In the U. S., we have raised a generation of children that know nothing but “war” and a misguided view of “patriotism” that is foisted by some who use that “war” as a political tool. In the world, there are people who have seen their families affected by the bombs of some far-flung U. S. drone attack, the bullets from a U. S.-made weapon or the ravages of imprisonment for “being (insert your religion or nationality here)” that has permanently implanted anti-U. S. sentiments in their minds. And the money that has been spent on the pursuit of “war” hasn’t been spent on areas to improve life for EVERYONE, significantly impacting all facets of life around the world.

On this 18th anniversary of 9/11 and in the future, as the costs both human and financial continue to rack up, we all must ask ourselves – “Was (Is) it worth it?” The nationalism that is becoming prevalent in the world nowadays can be directly traced back to 9/11 and it is something that has to be combated because it will only acerbate terrorism throughout the world. When it comes to the aftermath of 9/11, everyone has to have the ability to examine this question and plenty of other ones truthfully and come up with their own answers because this current situation cannot be continued in perpetuity. The current situation also cannot be allowed to flourish, lest it destroy civil society and plunge the world into an anarchistic state or theocratic or fascist rule. There is no such thing as “total security” and these thoughts present not only the people and leaders of the U. S. with a complex challenge but the world as well.

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What’s My Problem? It Should Be Everyone’s Problem…

After one of my essays the other day, someone had the audacity to ask me what was my problem with the Republican Party. “Why don’t you go after the Democratic Party the way you go after the Republicans?” the person asked. I offered a quick, Facebook-friendly reply – which wasn’t enough for that person (it seldom is – Facebook is not an essay-friendly arena) – so I thought that I would take the time to fully enunciate what “my problem” is with the Republican Party, at least the way that it is constituted today. When I reach the end, I think that most people might recognize that it should be everyone’s problem.

I came of age in the 1970s, in the post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Era when we questioned everything that made up the government (in fact, it is why I still question it today). Whether it was the federal, state or local offices, none of them were given a break over the conditions in the United States. Republicans back then were not identified by their blind addiction to denial of social norms – abortion was an issue that was just beginning to bubble – but were more likely to be viewed on their business acumen, foreign policy expertise and respect for the military, things that everyone could get behind including their counterparts. Democrats at that time were looked at as the voice of the “people,” the party who would actually stand with those who needed the help the most when the times were the toughest, and protected them sometimes against those businesses that threatened them.

As the 1980s rolled around – and especially after the mixed results that were the presidencies of Richard Nixon (and, after his resignation, Gerald Ford) and Jimmy Carter – the two parties were still somewhat malleable in that they stood for different things but worked together for the improvement of the United States. The election of Ronald Reagan was something the country needed – a new rebirth, if you will – and it did serve to recharge the nation. I served in the United States Marine Corps during Reagan’s presidency and, while seeing him build the world’s greatest military, I also saw the Republican Party’s treatment of its fighting force in decrepit barracks and base housing, inadequate equipment, improper usage in military actions and other various areas of governance, including the denial of the AIDS epidemic and other societal ills.

Because of the success of Reagan, President George Bush – Bush I, as I like to call him – was a natural choice to continue. But Bush was different:  he was practical, he knew that you couldn’t just force the military anywhere for any reason (perhaps because of his days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had a bit more “intelligence,” no pun intended) and he also knew you had to pay for the military. Thus, when he paid for the First Gulf War (or military action as “war” was never declared per se) by raising taxes, he was doomed as the 1990s began.

The true segmentation of the Republican and Democratic parties (and there is a segmentation, they are not “the same”) – and the reason for my look at one over the other – came about in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton became President in 1992, the nation took off, arguably because he worked with a Republican-led House of Representatives and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1994 and they maximized the “tech surge” of the mid-1990s. It was the second term of Clinton, however, that put the nail in the coffin for me.

Instead of being pleased with making the country work, the rising “neo-con” movement in the Republican Party – not happy to have a military that was sitting on the sidelines, wanting a bolder and more aggressive foreign policy and willing to do whatever it took to regain not only the power in Congress but also in the White House – seized on Clinton receiving a hummer from intern Monica Lewinsky and turned that into an impeachable offense (ever the opportunist Gingrich, rather than trying to staunch this wave, grabbed a surfboard and rode along with it). Fortunately, a more-rational Senate was able to stave off the slathering idiots that were the neo-con Republicans screaming for Clinton’s removal, but it would only be a momentary pause before the truly shitty schism would develop between the two.

The Republican neo-cons weren’t happy with skewering Democrats, they also ravaged their own. First they took down John McCain in 2000 with a bogus “black child” scam, getting their hand-picked puppet, George Bush (or Bush II), into the nomination, then they would turn the targeting on Al Gore as the election hinged on the state of Florida (the “swift-boating” of John Kerry four years later was just icing on the cake). Having seated 10 of the last 12 Supreme Court Justices, the Republicans were able to use the U. S. Supreme Court to shut down any further review of Florida’s recount in 2000, with 538 voters being the determining factor in Bush’s 2000 Electoral College win (Gore won the popular vote) over Gore.

Once back in power – and with the attacks of 9/11 – the Republican neo-con movement was given the proverbial golden chalice of opportunity to sweepingly affect the United States and they took full advantage of it. They enacted the Patriot Act of 2001 – with a reluctant Democratic Senate coming along (only Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, voted against it) – arguably the worst piece of legislation in the history of the country. They started first an air campaign against the alleged (true) mastermind behind 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan, but then for some inexplicable reason transferred most of their attention to an air and ground invasion of Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein, in essence starting a two-front war.

While making these mistakes, they also spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave. Instead of maintaining steady tax rates, the neo-cons lowered taxes – apparently thinking that there would be a magical money tree that would just drop $100 bills from the sky – while pushing an extreme anti-everything social policy that impeded on the rights on every person that isn’t a white male in the U. S. If that wasn’t enough, then the fiscal collapse of 2008 occurred – and the resulting “bank bailout” that was started by President Bush – before President Barack Obama came to office.

Now, in my entire existence, the Congress may not have agreed with the President, but they at the minimum did their job and attempted to work with the President. They passed bills, put them to the President and it was up to him as to whether he wanted to enact them. They WORKED with the President and/or his personnel. From the start of the Obama Presidency, however – and epitomized by now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous “our job” speech (“Our job is to ensure that the man in the White House is a one-term President”) – the Republicans have done exactly NOTHING to further the cause of the United States (and please don’t try to say the 60 or so votes to end the Affordable Care Act constitutes “action”).

Where I come from – my core beliefs – is that government works the best when it does keep its nose out of the lives of its citizens. There come moments in a nation’s history, however, when it does require the “voice of reason” to step in and make a determination. Slavery, the right of women to vote, civil rights, abortion, equal protection for women and LGBT persons…these are all moments when the federal government has to step in and say, as a whole for the nation, that there is one rule for one nation. Through this method, one area of the nation cannot inflict its ignorance, giving the country a black eye over something that should be settled (as Alabama recently did over the gay marriage issue).

With these issues, the Republican Party seldom seems to be on the right side (slavery seems to be one of those rare occasions). Rather than embracing the rights of people, the GOP seems to kowtow to a small sect (and I use that term in its perfect religious intentions) of people who consistently chop off their leaders’ arms for not trying to be more accepting of people DIFFERENT THAN THEM.

I don’t want to see leaders blaming people for being disadvantaged or poor, I want to see those leaders attempt to help those people (a great program in North Carolina, started by a Republican, encouraged people on public assistance into a two-year program that eventually saw those people get off the dole). I want to see schools given every tool available for the children rather than hear politicians cry about the tax expenditure (education is the only way to ensure that we improve as a country) of simply providing textbooks. I want to see leaders who try to improve life for everyone rather than improve it for a few. I want to see intelligence praised instead of derided, as many in the GOP do when it comes to science.

As to the military (and as a veteran), I would like to see our troops used less rather than more. I’d prefer to see them used only as a TRUE last resort instead of as a “peacekeeping” force (as they have been since World War II). And, if you’re going to use the military, supply them with the equipment they need, pay them well, take care of their families and, when they come home, take care of the veterans and their medical conditions. The Republicans who say that they cannot take care of veterans – calling it an “entitlement” – shouldn’t ever darken the door of Congress again.

This means you have to have money for everything. Paying for a strong military, infrastructure, improvements overall for people’s daily lives, business and education improvements…it all takes money. While it can be streamlined, it also needs funding to function. Taxation for government is a necessary evil and denying that increase in revenue is a death sentence to being a third world country.

This isn’t to say all Republicans are evil, just as it isn’t to say that all Democrats are saints. But, when the scales are weighed, I see one side doing more for people and the military overall and it certainly isn’t the one that is represented by the heavier animal. I’m always open for presentation of evidence to the contrary but, for the Republican Party, that evidence is rather sparse.

Is that answer good enough?