Thoughts on 9/11 and what our wars since WW II have cost us
Rather than treating 9/11 like the criminal conspiracy it was, we got bogged down in another land war in Asia — as disastrous as Vietnam. The whole world would have helped us locate Bin Laden, capture him, and put him on trial as Israelis did with Adolf Eichmann. Then, after we invaded Afghanistan and pushed Bin Laden out, The Taliban — which didn’t exist until we started meddling in Afghanistan — petitioned to surrender. But we spurned their offer, wanting a complete victory in the manner of a patriarchal father who thinks he knows what’s best for his children. Finally, compounding our folly, we invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.
History is clear: As Jeremi Suri recently wrote in the NYT, “We have thrown away our wealth and reputation fighting bad wars — costly, protracted conflicts with self-defeating consequences — in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. “ He goes on to say that military force is not a substitute for the hard work of building representative and effective governments in these countries we have invaded.
How true! Our emphasis on the military has had the same destabilizing effect inside our country, fraying our democracy and paralyzing Congress. Working and middle-class folks feel vulnerable and insecure, financially worse off than their parents. They believe government isn’t working for them. And they are right!
Since the 1970s, the gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans has gotten exponentially worse, the middle class has shrunk, and our roads and bridges have fallen apart. Compared to other developed countries, we have the lowest life expectancy, the highest poverty rate, and the worst safety net.
Just as General Westmoreland always saw light at the end of the tunnel during the Vietnam War, we think we are winning because the stock market continues to climb — pretending the have-nots do not exist, climate change is a hoax and that systematic racism is a liberal plot.
The more we become disillusioned, the more we turn on each other. As I wrote in my last column, our institutions can’t function unless we have a consensual agreement about who we are as a people. Without that, we become a dysfunctional family where individual members all seek control, like selfish children.
I fear our dysfunction has reached a tipping point: major civil unrest looms on the horizon, perhaps the opening salvo to civil war. If you think it can’t happen, look no further than what happened in Rwanda between two similar ethnic groups, who had lived together and intermarried for generations. But inflamed by ethnic tension and fake news, the Hutus attacked the Tutsis with clubs and machetes, killing 800,000 in the space of 100 days.
How do we hold enough common ground to move forward, avoiding the temptation to descend into backbiting and recrimination? The magnitude of the task ahead came into clearer focus for me after reading John Buttrick’s My Turn piece in the Sunday Concord Monitor. He wrote about his daughters’ “serious distrust” of Joe Biden because “he frequently openly touched women without their consent.”
As a 75-year-old man, who grew up when patriarchy ruled supreme, my whole life has been a re-education project — still ongoing. From the perspective of a recovering white male, I understand why these young women distrust Biden. As a progressive, I, too, have long distrusted Biden for many of his shifting centralist views.
But my outlook has changed since the Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6, along with his ongoing attempt to challenge the results of the last election and suppress voting in the next. If we imagined ourselves as a dysfunctional family under Trump, we now have another chance. We’ve elected a new president who wants to make government work again for the average citizen.
Joe Biden, warts and all, has had the political courage to get us out of Afghanistan, along with proposing the most sweeping legislation since the New Deal to lift up average Americans while, at the same time, protecting voter rights and women’s bodies. If democrats and forward-thinking republicans can pass this legislation, it will signal to disgruntled citizens that perhaps the government can work for them. But, to succeed, we will need all hands on deck!
Despite the significant distrust, harbored by so many of us on various issues, I believe it is time to suck it in and work together to hold the center to save our democracy. If we don’t step forward now, the consequences will be dire, expressed so well by Willian Butler Yates:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Originally published at http://jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.