9/11: Living without fear

By Martin Bosworth

This is going to be a slightly different 9/11 recollection. I’m not going to start by telling you where I was and what I was doing that day. Because 9/11 isn’t about me, really. Or you, or any one single person. It’s about something deeper, something that touches every person, everywhere.

It’s about fear.

Terrorism isn’t about inflicting the maximum body count or property damage possible. It’s about causing fear. Panic. Uncertainty. Chaos. It’s about causing a massive psychic wound on everyone affected and those around them–burdening them with the knowledge that they can never be safe. That death can come at any time, randomly, without reason, and you are powerless to do anything about it. Terrorism reminds you that you are not the master of your destiny, and cruel, capricious fate can snatch away everything you are and everything you’ve done, leaving nothing but a grave, a name on a plaque, and the grief of those who loved you.

Osama bin Laden and his ilk know this. They send out their little propagandist tapes and remind people that they’re out there, that they can strike at any time, and that as long as they remain free and clear, that psychic wound can never truly heal. There’s no catharsis, like there was after Pearl Harbor or the Oklahoma City bombings. We haven’t caught the bad guy, even though we probably could. But, as the Decider so famously said a few years back, catching the mastermind of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history is “not a top-priority use of our nation’s resources.”

Speaking of Bush, he and his masters know the meaning of fear as well. It’s what they’ve used to justify violating the Constitution for six years through illegal surveillance, invasive investigations, wasting taxpayer dollars on crony-filled initiatives like Homeland Security, and the seemingly endless propaganda tying Bush’s pet war in Iraq with 9/11, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Fear has been used to scare Americans into uncritically accepting the most egregious affronts to our life and liberty in my lifetime. Things that right-wing patriot militia types were screaming about fifteen years ago are now just met with a meek nod and a shrug. Bush and his cabal know that bin Laden is worth more to them alive, as the eternal boogeyman, the monster in the closet, the personification of the Other, the fear of the unknown. Because if he were to ever be brought in (dead or alive), then people would start asking–why do we need the Patriot Act? Why are we still in Iraq? Do we really need color-coded terrorism alerts, or ever-changing airport security regulations, or any of the millions of bullshit “security consultant” companies that milk taxpayer dollars to sell fear?

“9/11 changed everything.”
Except it didn’t. The knowledge that we will all die, and can sometimes die horribly for no reason, is knowledge we should carry with us as soon as we’re old enough to understand the concept of mortality. What matters is how you live your life and what you do with the time you have. Do you choose to live a life cowering in passive acceptance of the loss of our liberty, our democracy, the things that make us great as Americans?

Bruce Schneier famously wrote that we, as a collective species, don’t manage risk effectively. We think nothing of smoking, drinking, eating crappy food, taking crappy drugs, driving badly, and doing a million other things that will kill us a lot faster and a lot more certainly than a terrorist attack. Yet we freak out when spectacular risks are brought to our doorstep, and treat these once-in-a-lifetime events as the thing we should be most prepared to deal with.

America will be attacked by terrorists again. This is inevitable. It may come from al-Qaeda, domestic militiamen, some lone psycho with a bomb, or something we may not even know about yet. But it will happen. When that time comes, we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to stomach even more infringments on our rights, even more disgraceful violations of our freedoms, even more subtle transformations into a police state.

Make no mistake–we should never forget those who died, and we should cherish those who lived and fought to save lives. But the wound in our country’s soul must heal. If we cannot catch bin Laden–and we absolutely should–then it must heal by our collective will to stop being afraid. To stop equating patriotism with submission and acceptance. To stop willingly let ourselves be used as pawns in the game. To stand up, to challenge, to think, to question, and to live our lives as we want to live them. Without fear.

Today I could die. You never know how it could happen or when. But that isn’t going to stop me from doing all the things I normally do and living my life as I see fit.

I will not live a life in fear.

And neither should you.

20 replies »

  1. Great post. I’ve often thought over these last 6 years that the best way to honor those who died is to put what happened out of our minds. The more we fear, the more they died in vain.

  2. “America will be attacked by terrorists again. This is inevitable. “

    The only surprise is that the US hasn’t been attacked a lot more from different sides because of its foreign policy. And because it backs Israel regardless of its policies.

    Osama’s been pretty clear about what he wants: the US out of the Middle East. Look at Spain. It withdrew its forces and no more attacks.

    But Bush needs Osama to continue to get Iraq privatised by the US business community, funnel money to his backers in the oil bidness, and make another permanent US outpost in the Middle East to expand the military presence so defense contractors get another permanent place at the trough. That’s why Bush won’t pull the troops out in his term. And whenever Bush needs to use the patriot card, he trots out ole Osama, former CIA trainee.

    General Smedley Butler said it well, “war is a racket”.

    As far as 9/11/2001, it was bad but was it any worse than the SF earthquake? How about the Great Chicago fire? And plenty other examples.

    The real terrorist is in the White House. Osama’s just some guy wanting to get rid of the Saudi royals.

  3. “Bush and his cabal know that bin Laden is worth more to them alive, as the eternal boogeyman, the monster in the closet, the personification of the Other, the fear of the unknown.”

    Everything was going fine with the Cold War until Russia dropped out. Now we have al Qaeda. Let’s hope they drop out before we are all just fuel for the war machine.

    Wonderful and refreshing post.

  4. I forgot to mention a for instance in my previous post. The US has more private contractors on the ground than military personnel.

    Um, war is a racket.

  5. Colleen Rowley had this in her recent article:

    “I predict will become the major question all historians will have to answer:

    “How did they do it?

    How did eight or nine neoconservatives who believed that a war in Iraq was the answer to international terrorism get their way? How did they redirect the government and rearrange long-standing American priorities and policies with so much ease?

    How did they overcome the bureaucracy, intimidate the press, mislead the Congress, and dominate the military? Is our democracy that fragile?””

  6. There’s a problem – as much as you might want to, you cannot blame Bush for the U.S.’ long history of messing with other governments and people. There’s a lot of things you can blame Bush for, but blaming him for the fact that the CIA indirectly created bin Laden is just crazy. Blame his father perhaps, but not him.

    Going nuts on Bush for a hundred years of U.S. misadventures is tilting at windmills, and people will consider you a crackpot for it (perhaps correctly, perhaps incorrectly).

    Sometimes it’s better to tone down the rhetoric so you don’t close the minds of the very people you’re trying to convince.

  7. Well, I may be guilty of not segueing very clearly from one point (what Bush is responsible for) to the next point (the long term history of US adventures in place like South America or the Middle East), but all the points are fairly well documented out there.

  8. Good point.

    According to Scott Horton’s post today, The Next War (September 12, 8:11 AM), it looks like everything’s in place now for Shrub to do the same in Iran.