After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many people went on TV and talked about how strong we are as a nation, and how we would not allow the attacks to change who we are as a nation. People said things like this:
“The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic, and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.”
-Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of NYC
We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation.
-George W. Bush
Soon after these words were spoken, came the “but.”
“The terrorists hate us for our liberty and freedom, but they are threatening our security, our lives, our way of life. Therefore…”
And with the “therefore” came everything after. The Patriot Act was passed a mere 45 days after 9/11, which gave our government broad provisions to spy on…us, the American citizenry. We went to war in Afghanistan to fight the actual terrorists of 9/11, but in 2003, we went to war to fight people who had nothing to do with it, in Iraq. Americans died there, and several hundred thousand Iraqis have died.
America was a nation who did not torture, although Americans had been tortured by other regimes in the past, including the Japanese in WWII and the Vietnamese during that war. But after 9/11, our government began to abduct people to “black sites” for interrogation that was nothing if not torture. While U.S. citizens are nominally granted the rights to due process of the law, our government offered none to foreign nationals and still don’t for some in Guantanamo to this day. “But our security…”
With the focus on unending wars and security at home, U.S. police departments became increasingly outfitted with military gear that wouldn’t be out of place in a war zone. Except, of course, it would be used here, in American communities — against Americans.
Traveling by air ceased to be fun a long time ago, but before 9/11, you could greet someone at the airline terminal. After 9/11, no more. You can only be in a terminal with a valid ticket, and to get there, you now have to run a security gauntlet that would have made the Soviets proud. Take off your shoes, take out your keys and quarters, pass through a device that will reveal your naked body to someone you don’t know, and if none of that is good enough, prepare to be “pat down” so vigorously that it feels like a sexual assault. This is done in the name of “security,” but it is yet another nail in the coffin of liberty, yet another way that citizens are reminded that the police state can do whatever they please whenever they please, and we have little to say about it.
The ability of the government to interfere in your life has increased remarkably since Trump became president, particularly if you have an unusual name, a skin color that is not white, or wear clothing that doesn’t look like it came from a generic department store. Traveling has gone from being difficult to being impossible for some. Foreigners are frequently turned away, including from places like Canada, long presumed to be “not a terrorist nation.” And American citizens and valid visa holders have had difficulty returning to the U.S. and have been required to hand over their phones and computers so that government officials can take a look at their social feeds and see just how patriotic or “Unamerican” they may be. This, in the land of the First Amendment.
Our freedoms are taken, bit by bit, incrementally, so that we don’t notice. Our Internet providers, thanks to Congress, are now perfectly free to gather our data. If you think the government won’t get a piece of that, you’re kidding yourself. We walk around with devices that allow them to know exactly where we are at all times, what we think, and what we buy. Welcome, Big Brother.
In the meantime, the corporate looters who went into overdrive after 9/11 and crashed the economy in 2008 are busy repealing the laws that might prevent another such crash, and their cronies in Congress and the executive branch are preparing to steal everything else as they kill the parts of government that actually help the citizenry to survive. The pain is going to be immense.
The terrible truth, after these 16 years, is that the terrorists did make us afraid. Some people are now so afraid that they try to kill Muslims, blindly, unknowingly, as though they are not people. Just as al-Qaeda would, or Daesh (ISIL). The terrorists have helped to generate an equal and opposite hatred from some of us. And the freedoms, the liberty, that the terrorists supposedly envy or hate, are becoming mere memories, fading away as we subserviently heed the call to show our papers, take off our shoes, surrender our fingerprints, and have our images tracked by facial recognition software wherever we go.
We have changed. We did surrender — our freedoms. We did surrender — our ideals. The terrorists have won.