11 September 2011

Some scattered thoughts on 9/11

At the time we all said, "this will change everything." Ten years later, it doesn't seem like it did.

It doesn't seem like a new wave of patriotism was suddenly hammered into us by the magnitude of the attack.  A young man I worked with at the time actually said, when asked if he was thinking about enlisting, "it isn't my fight." And that was in the days just after the attacks; the days of our great national unity. Much has been written rightly praising the brave and patriotic young people who have enlisted in our all-volunteer military since 2001, but the facts are these: with a population 31% larger than it was in 1985, we have 35% fewer people serving on active duty in our military.

Go ahead and praise the actual individuals who take up arms for their country, but be careful when you rhapsodize about a "9/11 generation." Young people today are far less likely to enlist in the military than they were even 25 years ago, and the population as a whole is largely indifferent to the idea of defense spending cuts. There are a lot of reasons for those things. The size of the military is determined by Congress, not by the number willing to serve. As for spending, it may be that many Americans have simply concluded that the War on Terror is over, and we won. Nevertheless, you simply cannot say that Americans as a whole, or her younger generation, have any greater commitment to national security – whatever their reasons – than they did before 9/11.

It doesn't seem like the old political battle-lines about foreign policy have shifted, either. It seems, at times, that 9/11 has just become another event for both sides to use as a cudgel against the other – even today.

The "blame America first" crowd hasn't shifted their accusing finger away from their own country so much as narrowed their focus to point only at certain Americans; to include their innocent fellow citizens among the victims of all that is wrong with America. Even the crackpots who immediately said "we brought it on ourselves," or "we deserved it" have never had to apologize, or ever even leave the mainstream. Many of their arguments, instead, were incorporated into the foreign policy of one of their acolytes, who was swept into the White House by "the 9/11 generation."

It doesn't seem like our people rededicated themselves to the nation's founding ideals, or to the ethic President Kennedy evoked when he exhorted us to ask not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. In 2008, it seemed the prevailing sentiment was "can't this country do more for me?" And we elected the man who said "yes, we can;" who said, rather than rededicate the nation to its founding principles of liberty, he would "fundamentally transform it." He won.

It doesn't seem like our national resolve, so strongly felt ten years ago, to rebuild a taller, shinier building in Lower Manhattan prevailed in any meaningful way against our bureaucratic and regulatory overlords. Ten years on, and still no building stands at "Ground Zero."

Meanwhile, over in the Middle East, it seems that despite the "Freedom Agenda" of the last administration, anti-Israel, anti-American, Islamicism appears to be ascendant even in nations once in the vanguard of peacemaking. Here at home, we are asked to celebrate this as the "Arab Spring."

We sure showed them, didn't we?

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