ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bloggers Recall How 9/11 Changed Them

I'm a big fan of Jeff Goldstein's Protein Wisdom (although I'd be a much bigger fan if he'd put a link to ARC on his site!) and thought his post from yesterday was a must read for everyone. He recalls the impact that 9/11 had on his political views...

Excerpted in full

Has it really been half a decade?

On the morning of September 11 2001, my wife and I were up early packing the car for a weekend stay we’d planned in Taos, NM. We were watching “Good Morning America” while having our coffee when the report broke of a “small plane” hitting one of the Twin Towers—a report that was soon thrown into doubt by eyewitnesses who claimed the plane was much larger than the initial accounts were claiming.

We decided to stick around for a bit until we knew what exactly was happening, and because of that, we watched live as the second plane hit the Towers. It was at that point, I think, that we cancelled our trip. Not long after, we watched the Towers collapse.

In the days and weeks following what we eventually learned were terrorist attacks, I became—along with millions of Americans, I suspect—a news junkie. And it was during the second stage of the coverage—after the immediate 48 hours, when networks began “contextualizing” the attacks—that I found myself growing disillusioned with media outlets I’d previously watched fairly uncritically. Pre-911, I wasn’t at all a political animal; but CNN and Peter Jennings turned me into one.

They also allowed me to find FOX News, which I had never before watched—and blogs, which I had never before read. The rapidity of the updates on blogs, which were pulling stories from multiple sources and offering commentary, fed both my hunger for information and my desire to consider a broad range of commentary. And in December 2001, I started my own site, which eventually became protein wisdom.

I also subscribed to a number of magazines within a month or two of the 911 attacks in order to read across the ideological and political spectrum. Among these were The Nation, Harpers, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and Reason. And it was through these periodicals that I was able to find my political bearings—which I’d always believed was more toward, say, Harpers -- but which in fact turned out to be some combination of the The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and National Review on foreign policy, and Reason on social policy.

Which, I have to be honest, this came as quite a shock to a guy who’d spent the last 10 years of his life in the Humanities—though in retrospect, I don’t think it should have been, given the way I now believe one’s understanding of how language works (even if that understanding is entirely unconscious) either determines (or possibly is determined by) one’s ideological orientation, which then translates into a nodal point on the political continuum.

My own orientation—which I’ve come to identify as classically liberal—also exposed an ideological rift between me and many of my friends, one that had previously been a far more localized and discipline-specific dispute over hermeneutics, often argued vigorously over beer and bad 70s music. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least), my friends who were of the postcolonial / new historical / post-structural (including reader-response) schools of interpretation theory turned out to hold “progressive” political views and were the most likely to embrace ideas about “blowback” and US imperialism / hegemony, which they often trotted out as a way to distance themselves from the crass nativists who had taken to wearing American flag lapel pins or decorating their cars with ribbon magnets, and had committed the unpardonable sin of having never read Pynchon or Delillo or Said or Walter Benjamin.

So for me, not only was 911 an horrific day of tragedy, but it was likewise the day that began my political awakening, and compelled me to think through and clarify my political beliefs, as well as endeavor to understand the philosophical underpinnings of my ideological inclinations in much the same way I’d previously gone about understanding, say, The Time Machine or The Prince.

Now, five years later, I’m completely comfortable with my politics; and I am firmly behind the current administration’s basic strategy for fighting the scourge of Islamic radicalism—even if I often disagree with particular manifestations of that strategy.

And at this remove, I find it rather pointless, now, to argue with those who have become entrenched in their views. Nevertheless, I continue to write—sometimes to persuade, sometimes to crystalize my own thoughts—so that those who are perhaps new to an examination of politics, foreign policy, etc., can, if they’d like, add my observations and arguments to the mix that will eventually define their place on the political spectrum.

911 was a clarion call. It told us we are indeed at war—that an enemy has sought us out, and that no amount of projection or denial or blame shifting or strained attempts to “understand” that enemy (ironically, often in completely western terms, this despite the constant suggestions that we need to understand them through the lens of their peculiar cultural beliefs) was going to change that fact.

Some of us have embraced that message and have decided to support a particular strategy for fighting the war; others (on both the left and the right) think our current leadership has chosen the wrong strategy; and still others deny that we are even AT war.

And so for me, today is a time to reflect not only upon the horrors of that sunny September morning—but it is likewise a time to take stock of where we are, what we’ve done since, and what we need to do going forward in order to protect our country and our way of life from those who would annihilate them.

I figure watching United 93 ought to be a nice way to jumpstart those reflections. So if you’ll excuse me --

And after reading Jeff's post, I recalled that another of my favorite bloggers, the Neo-Neocon, also experienced a similar reaction to 9/11. I visited her site and, sure enough, she had reposted her thoughts following that horrible day, explaining how that tragic event transformed her thinking on many issues:
9/11: the watershed

[On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, I am reposting the following. It is part of my "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series, and deals with the events of 9/11 and my reaction to them.]

INTRODUCTION

Although I've written in my "About Me" section that I was "mugged by reality on 9/11," that's really just a convenient and probably misleading shorthand description of a much more complex reaction, one that began that instant but emerged only slowly, over a period of several years. It's probably still in the process of evolving and changing.

But the beginning wasn't slow. Not at all.

It began in an instant, the instant I heard about the 9/11 attacks. Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was at the time and how I learned the news.
[...]
I knew immediately and intuitively that a watershed event had occurred. I didn't know the exact parameters of it, nor any details of the direction in which we were headed, but I knew that this moment felt like a break with everything that had gone before. Assumptions I hadn't even known I'd held were dead in a single instant, as though their life supports had been cut. I didn't know what would replace them.

What were the main assumptions that had died in that instant for me? They had to do with a sense of basic long-term safety. Some utterly fearful thing that had seemed contained before, although vaguely threatening, had now burst from its constraints. It was like being plunged into something dark and ancient that had also suddenly been grafted onto modern technology and jet planes--Huns or Mongols or Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler or Hector being dragged behind Achilles' chariot--a thousand swirling vague but horrific impressions from an ancient history I'd never paid all that much attention to before.

I remembered having read articles within the last couple of years that had told of terrorist plans and threats, but managing to successfully surpress my rising fear and reassuring myself that no, it wouldn't actually happen; it was just talk and boasting bravado. The nuclear nightmares of my youth now came to mind: the fallout shelters, the bomb drills, the suspicion that I wouldn't live to grow up. I had suppressed those, too, especially in recent years when the fall of the Soviet Union had removed what had once been the likeliest source of the conflagration. It now felt like one of those horror movies where the heroine is chased by someone out to do her harm and then she gets home, feels safe, closes the door and breathes a sigh of relief--and then the murderer leaps out of the closet, where he'd been hiding all the time.
[...]
Each prior terrorist attack had contained elements that had allowed me to soothe and distance myself from it, and to minimize the terrorists' intent. Most of the attacks had been overseas, or on military personnel, or both. Or, if the attack had been in this country and on civilians (both were certainly true of the previous WTC bombing), the terrorists had seemed almost comically inept and bumbling. Each attack had been horrible, but the presence of one or more of these elements had kept knowledge of what was really going on at bay.

Those planes that had crashed into the towers and toppled them on 9/11 also had smashed the nearly impenetrable wall of my previous denial. These attacks had been audacious. I could not ignore the fact that the intent of the terrorists was to be as lethal and malicious as humanly possible. The change in the scope and scale of the project made it seem as though they did indeed want to kill us all, indiscriminately, and it gave their motives even less grounding in any sort of rational thought that I could fathom, or any real strategic end. The creativity of the attacks (and I do not use that word admiringly, but the attacks were indeed an instance of thinking outside the box) made it seem that anything was possible, and that the form of future attacks could not be anticipated or even guessed at. The attacks had imitated an action/adventure movie far too well, the type of thing that had always seemed way too improbable to be true. But now it had actually happened, and the terrorists seemed to have become almost slickly competent in the split-second timing and execution of the attacks.
[...]
Now, and quite suddenly, I wanted to learn what had happened, why, and what we might need to do about it. In fact, I felt driven to study these things, in the way that a person suddenly faced with the diagnosis of a terminal illness might want to learn everything possible about that disease, even if they'd had no interest whatsoever in it before. Samuel Johnson has written that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. A terrorist attack on this scale had focused the mind wonderfully, too. That was, perhaps, its only benefit.

Even on that very first day, as I sat on the rocks overlooking the beautiful ocean that I loved so much, I thought we had entered a new era, one which would probably go on for most of my lifetime however much longer I might live. The fight would be long and hard, and there would be many many deaths before it was over. Perhaps it would result in the end of civilization as we knew it--yes, my thoughts went that far on that day. This war would encompass most of the globe. I had no idea how it would work out, but I knew that we were in for the fight of our lives.

The legal actions of the past--the puny trial after the first World Trade Center attack, for example--no longer seemed like an effective response. It seemed, in retrospect, to have been almost laughably naive. The situation didn't even seem amenable to a conventional war. Something new would have to be invented, and fast. And it would have to be global. It would have to have great depth and breadth, and it would probably last for decades or even longer.

Read the entire post, because I excerpted quite a bit and it doesn't do justice to Neo's writing style.

I know that for many moderates and self-proclaimed liberals, 9/11 was a wakeup call. A day in which they realized that the multicultural tolerance of intolerant cultures and ideologies could no longer be promoted. It was a return to classical liberalism for them and they truly saw a fissue between their clarified views and the views of their Leftist friends. For me, I was always a "jingoistic" American and it was crystal clear to me on 9/11 that the Middle East had to be changed to secure our nation for future generations. Even though I have a degree in international business and had plenty of training and courses about not being the "ugly American" and learned to respect other cultures, it never meant (to me) that I had to subordinate what I know is the greatness that is America - the shining city on a hill - to ideologies and cultures which are its antithesis.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler