Reflections on 9/11

There were a lot of profound and moving reflections about 9/11, and of course the most affecting surely take place in private, among the survivors of people lost that day. One of Matt’s high school friends died, at work high in one of the Towers. I’ve lost touch with his mother, but am sure 9/11 remains a day when she remembers her handsome and promising boy and all the days he never got to have. I remember that boy too, at first a darling second or third grader with dark curly hair and enormous dark eyes, coming over to our house to play. His name was Eric.

Of all the articles, this one in FP strikes me as the most important. The premise is that in exchange for the lives of 19 of its fighters, Al Qaeda won the story of what happened that day, and therefor the war. The strike on the Twin Towers fundamentally re-oriented U.S. policy, at an immense cost in lives and resources that might have gone to building the United States. The strike made us vulnerable, dark, fearful. Sugar, the author points out, takes more lives annually than all the terrorist events on our soil in any given year, even that terrible year. No matter. We are not afraid of sugar. We are afraid of random strikes, distorted ideologies, people who wear beards and hijabs. The article uses the term “diathetical warfare”. Here the author references T.E. Lawrence, the famed Lawrence of Arabia:

The term Lawrence gave to this kind of semantic warfare was diathetics, a phrase borrowed from the Greek philosopher Xenophon. It was a battle for the stories people tell and for the public consciousness that emerges out of the stories that people tell.”

The article is long, but the premise is stark and simple:

“Diathetics works. For the cost of the lives of 19 terrorists, al Qaeda sparked the global war on terrorism, with its subsequent $2.1 trillion cost and the loss of thousands of American lives. More importantly, they changed the way America thought of itself and the way the world thought of America. They made powerful people believe that the war against Islamist terrorism, a technologically incompetent fringe hiding in caves in the most remote locations in the world, presented a threat comparable to the fascist war machines of World War II. They convinced America that the only way to protect itself from this threat was to suspend civil liberties. Seventeen years later, America is stumbling back from the Middle East, believed by its own people and by the rest of the world to be a defeated occupier. The Taliban is still a force in Afghanistan. The central proposition of radical Islamist movements since Jamal al-Din al-Afghani—that Islam was anti-modernity—was proved to everyone’s satisfaction. The consequences of these changes in mindset were vast, elaborating themselves in ways that would have been inconceivable to bin Laden or to anyone else.”

The United States continues to build its hard military assets, ballooning the defense budget beyond imagination. But this isn’t that kind of war. It’s a war of information, of stories, of hearts and minds. We have a president who doesn’t touch a computer, and who fans the flames of distorted reality with constant, reflexive lying. We have Congressional leaders, old men with grey heads, who looked on in befuddlement as Mark Zuckerberg testified about social media. That’s where the current war is being fought, will be fought.

“The biggest vulnerability the United States faces in the diathetical struggle is that it refuses to recognize its vulnerability. The effects of social media have become apparent, but the U.S. government, the media, and the tech sector have shown exactly no will to defend themselves from the consequences. Controlling social media is a matter of national security. Those in power in the United States are simply too old to see it. ”

We need younger people in power in our political institutions. We need to re-commit ourselves to truth, to facts, to rigorous examination of data. We need to let go of a past that is really, truly past.

No one on the national scene, as far as I can see, is talking about any of this. That’s our greatest vulnerability indeed.

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