Reflections for 9/11: Part II: Factors Affecting the Shape of the Story

On September 12, 2001 the newsletter associated with this website had the following brief second point (link to original email below):

“(b) ROOT CAUSES: While nothing could possibly justify the abhorrent terrorist acts, and terrorists need to be stopped, there are nonetheless root causes for the violence in this world. We can add our voices to those who suggest the only long-term way out of the spiral of violence, fear and hate is a more just sharing of the world’s resources including issues of power.”

The full essay (also linked below) clarified that one should not make any easy linkages between the terrorist attack of 9/11 and its root causes. The above quote appears to hover around such a mistake. In fact that is why the full essay was later written – I knew even one day after the attacks that root causes are in some way tied to the ultimate vision being upheld and the story that packages it. I already knew of the spiteful anti-modern ideology being taught in certain Pakistani madrissas. The unjust sharing of resources fuelled the anger and recruited sympathizers but was not the basic cause. And thus the full essay wanted at least to list some of the areas that play into such global dynamics.

This blog, however, wants to ponder some of factors that have shaped the story of the Western reaction to 9/11. It presumes Part I of the blog has been read. It is not a full essay and can only highlight a few issues:

1. The overall story of 9/11: The story typically opens on September 11, 2001, while perhaps that should be the start of chapter six of the story, and by now we must be on maybe chapter 32. The original full essay, below, tried to fill in some of those earlier chapters, although since then countless books have been written on the subject. The point is that anyone wanting to break current violent patterns will never succeed without at least having a well-grounded sense of history of how we got to that point, complete with its basic human nature dynamics.

2. Fear: Fear is part of what allowed us as a species to survive – we learned to fear what truly put our lives at risk. But fear is also insidious. It easily seeps into other areas, having a corrosive effect on situations or relations that could otherwise be supportive. And fear is easily manipulated by others, as was definitely the case here. The original newsletter that questioned talk about an Iraq War (link below), while definitely not getting everything right, was correct in it skepticism of why suddenly an invasion was necessary when no new compelling evidence supported it. What did support it, among other things, was the play upon fear. Have we found an alternative vision that is noble and encompassing, and yet also pragmatic enough to deal with the hard realities that face the world?

3. “War on . . .” language: I find such language (“war on drugs”, “war on terror”) has two aspects. On the one hand it is “reassuring” language – it makes my world seem like someone knows what the problem is, what the solution is, and has the overwhelming resources to succeed – things will be taken care of. But I also find a disconnect – it is nonsensical language since there is no identifiable enemy to attack; rather there are hidden networks. Such was part of the short-lived argument in the days following 9/11 – that the best alternative approach to “war” is via an overwhelming combination of international criminal justice, political pressure and providing compelling alternatives. In this regard some commentators have said that the Arab Spring has done more to weaken Al Qaeda in the long term than any military action. Have we become more aware how terminology can be used to manipulate, or how to distinguish attempts at true journalism from an ideologically-based one, whether from the right or left? What is true insight and where is it found?

4. Cost of the War on Terror: Because this newsletter is focused on the well-being of all on this planet, it is absurd to think one can calculate a true “cost” of 9/11 – what is the value of a human life? That said, there are two concerns which give rise to this section. First, it can be a helpful exercise to attempt to plumb the scope of the reverberations. The underlying assumption that “the clearer our perception of reality, the better our chance of success (of a more humane world)” compels us to examine the breadth and depth of what ensued. Secondly, coverage of the 9/11 anniversary will include many images and statistics. This section will hopefully assist in giving some perspective to the adequacy of any such claims.

The most comprehensive website on the overall costs that I know is: http://costsofwar.org/. The work was done by a number of respected academics, with the project centered at Brown University in the U.S. While the focus is on war costs (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan), and even this narrower range is impossible to completely quantify, here are a few of its findings under some of its sub-categories:

  • Human direct costs: Over 6000 US soldiers killed (stunning: unsure injured/illness count, due to Pentagon; over 500,000); 1100 Western allied deaths (70,000 wounded); 18,000 Afghan/Iraq Security deaths; 3500 Pakistan Security deaths; 2300 Pentagon contractor deaths; 200 media people killed; 137,000 civilians killed.  For returning US, about 25% have known mental health issues as well; plus toxic dust exposure can produce other problems. There are a staggering 7.8 million displaced people.
  • Financial cost: $3.2 to $4 trillion, which includes Pentagon budget (& its hidden costs), veterans, Homeland Security, interest, etc.
  • Erosion of Civil Liberties: Issues of detention, torture, rendition, surveillance, data privacy;
  • Media: In addition to the above media-related deaths, they examine the accuracy and skewing of the media related to the wars (no examination of other 9/11 coverage);
  • Growth of Corporate Power and Profiting: The growth is due to $400 billion in military contracts, primarily to 5 companies. Fraud, abandoned project, etc., are examined. For US intelligence, private contract employees now outnumber government employees;
  • Environmental costs: This seldom-mentioned area has sprawling implications – high fuel needs (made two-fold worse: often an actual gallon for use required two gallons to transport it; total DoD fuel needs: 4.6 billion gallons/year), toxic legacies, habitat loss, wetland destruction, deforestation, depleted uranium.
  • Benefits: The original goals were the removal of safe havens for terrorists and elimination of WMD. The goals shifted into issues of democracy and also women’s rights. Setting aside the discredited WMD issue, the report’s analysis seems quite thin here, perhaps reflecting the open nature of all three questions. However, thus far democracy is rated very poorly (Freedom House, Transparency International) and women’s groups in these areas are alarmed at the backward movement of their issues. Finally, a benefit not part of the report’s focus is that no subsequent major successful terrorist attack has yet occurred on US soil. A future blog may ponder that fact in light of the well-being of all around this planet.

In light of the above, I have already found commentators say that bin Laden has largely won beyond his fondest expectations; I have also found the opposite, either on the belief of a weakened Al Qaeda network or to the rise of the Arab Spring, which provides an alternative vision and reflects the real aspirations of most in the Arab world. Perhaps it is both. For sure moving toward a more decent world will depend on the shape of the story being used.

Original Email:

http://www.untilall.org/uwaa-10.htm

Original Full Essay:

http://www.untilall.org/hopeful.htm

Original Skepticism of Iraq War Talk:

http://www.untilall.org/uwaa-21.htm

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