Department Discusses the Impact of Sept. 11th
Sep 9, 2011
Last night, the Department hosted a discussion on the impact of 9-11 on the U.S. and the world. Dr. Ryan led off the discussion talking about how 9-11 affected international politics. First, we are safer. No matter what your view of certain government policies, the undeniable fact is that we are safer. Second, Afghanistan was a necessary operation. We have succeeded to a large degree in eliminating or scattering al-Qaeda which significantly limits its ability to launch large scale attacks. However, we would have better served to have done more during the early years in Afghanistan and then exited. Third, Iraq was not a necessary operation and was not related to 9-11. We would have better served to focus our interests elsewhere. Fourth, the Iraqi invasion hurt our relationships with some Western European states, and getting bogged down in Iraq encouraged our potential competitors/enemies. Finally, the opportunity costs of the Iraqi invasion include not being able to focus on Iran, a country with an undeniable WMD program.
After that, Dr. Evans discussed how 9-11 affected American politics. Dr. Evans said that part of the tragedy of 9-11 and its aftermath is how we, as a nation, reacted. Even though political discourse has become even more uncivil the past thirty years, 9-11 and its aftermath increased it even more. Due to the stakes involved regarding life, death, and personal rights, people began to see opponents not just as wrong on policy but morally flawed. The opposition to various policies, thus, led to an increase in character attacks on political personalities. Unfortunately, the character attacks has coincided with a tendency of people to interact with others like them and listen to media that reinforces what they already believe. While the unity of 9-11 was certain to fade, Dr. Evans hoped the unity would help our political climate.
Second, Dr. Evans thought that President Bush missed a great opportunity to call the nation to something greater. He dedicated the military and government to promoting democracy abroad and defending the homeland and deservedly so. But the President did not ask anything of us as people. 9-11 was a great opportunity to call Americans to put aside their individualism and focus on something big for the nation like pushing energy independence.
Dr. Watson followed Dr. Evans and made three basic points. First, 9/11 reminded us that while we can disagree about the proper scope and reach of government, its most fundamental purpose is to ensure that citizens do not have to choose between burning alive and jumping forty stories to their deaths. Security is not the most important thing, but it is a pre-condition that makes everything else possible. Second, given his first point, 9/11 reminded us of just how successful our government and society is in that worrying about getting killed is a relatively rare concern for everyday Americans compared to other times and places. Third, the fading of memory of 9/11 is somewhat sad, but healthy and good. We wouldn't want to relive the days after 9/11 in perpetuity. But how we remember those events and the lives lost is important, and parallels the importance of our remembering Christ's death and resurrection.
Dr. Baker concluded the discussion making three points. First, September 11 caused us to revisit the question of just war versus total war. While much has been made of the United States’ various missteps, use of waterboarding, etc., it is impressive to observe just how much our country has stayed its hand in response. The attacks were aimed at the central nervous system of the U.S. Another nation with similar power might have responded with much less restraint.
Second, the success of the 9-11 attacks demonstrated the vulnerabilities of a free and open society such as ours. I remember thinking at the time that we would probably endure radical revisions of our freedoms in the wake of such a devastating series of strikes. Much to our credit, we have managed to avoid additional attacks while maintaining our traditional rights and privileges.
Third, we continue to suffer damage from September 11. Unity evaporated and was replaced by an ever more contentious and polarizing brand of politics. It should be noted, however, that even a complete regime change here in the United States in 2006 and 2008 did not result in much change in foreign policy, which is probably what motivated voters the most.