Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 12, 2010

Vulnerable, Fallible, Fragile

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on September 12, 2010

At the base of the Christchurch Firefighters' Reserve sculpture, which is crafted of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center towers, native Maori placed the silhouette of a koru or fern representing hope, rebirth and new life.

Princeton scholar and author Robert Wuthnow‘s recent book Be Very Afraid traces the cultural origins of our nation’s responses to nuclear weapons, biological threats (both natural and manmade), terrorism and climate change. In the book’s final chapter, he summarizes three frameworks for reconciling our relationship to these threats, their effects and the uncertainty we feel about the future as a result of their pervasive influence over us as a people and human beings as a species. The more I reflected on our nation’s response to 9/11, the more I was drawn to Wuthnow’s distinctions.

What makes our modern awareness of these threats unique and so distinct from the past is the influence of science both on their emergence and our understanding of how to deal with them. Phenomena our ancestors would have described as acts of God can no longer be dismissed so easily; we have become the authors of our own destiny. Even the most devout among us sees a distinctly human hand at work in the perils we face.

More importantly, however, we accept some responsibility for these phenomena and how we deal with them, if only to assume we must carry on on in whatever way we can manage to fulfill those responsibilities that make up so much of our daily lives. This, we have come to realize, is an artifact of our humanity: Action in spite of awareness of our own insignificance.

Nine years ago, as the country woke to the first new day after the horror of the worst attacks against Americans on our native soil, we were faced with choices, that although not new to us, certainly awakened in us new and different understandings of our relationship to evil and one another. We felt closer to one another as Americans and more dependent on the goodwill of others. But soon enough, our sense of loss and fear became cause for anger.

For many, the attacks presented new evidence of our vulnerability. The United States was no longer beyond the reach of its adversaries. What we once saw as strengths — our geography, technology and democracy — no longer shielded us from those who meant to do us harm. No one, it seemed, could consider themselves entirely safe anymore.

Others saw in the attacks or in the way we responded to them, evidence of our fallibility as a people. We became a target not because others hated our freedoms, but because we failed to adequately avail ourselves of the opportunities they presented us with. For people of this view, the attacks served more as a question mark than an exclamation point. What, they wondered, should we do to make things right? For many, if not most, the answer was clear. The only appropriate way to answer was to respond from a position of strength. We must prove, they proffered, that we are not as weak and feeble as the attacks made us seem. This, however, produced widely varied responses that have only deepened the ideological divides among us.

In the end, at least for me, the attacks proved something more profound. They demonstrated yet again the fragility of our human condition. They proved not only our fallibility and vulnerability, but also laid bare innate qualities that cause us to think and act in ways that demean us and diminish our humanity. The attacks and our responses to them demonstrated that both our adversaries and ourselves share tendencies to stereotype, oversimplify, and place our reasoning faculties in service of our emotions.

These tendencies and the conditions they reveal in us are just cause not for retribution but repentance. Our fragility should make us more aware of our dependence on compassion and the need to greet one another and the challenges we share with empathy.

The coincidence that this 9/11 anniversary falls as it does immediately after the Muslim holy day of Eid-al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan and between the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should have served to underscore the need for us to look back on these events with a sense of awe and repentance. Our retrospective sense of wonder should not arise from the fact that these events occurred in the first place. It is neither the fallibility of our imaginations nor lapses in our preparedness that should attract our attention. Rather, the fact we have neither succumbed to the assault nor prevailed over our adversaries should give us pause.

It is my most fervent hope that in the time before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 that we will come to recognize that our best hope of achieving the sense of order, stability and consistency we crave in world affairs will come from engaging others with empathy. It may be too much to ask Americans to love their enemies. The pain remains too raw, too great and too real for many. But we can defeat our adversaries by avoiding the temptations to see the worst in others, to seek simple answers to complex problems and to rely more on organizations, institutions and nations than individuals to make the world a better place for us all.

To the extent that the future is in our hands, we all share a responsibility to guide the work of our hands with our heads and hearts to produce a just and peaceful world.

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September 12, 2010 @ 6:26 am

Justice and peace require worthy instruments. Our radar keeps getting better because it needs to. The state keeps creating more dependent people. An independent people are happier and thus more secure. Life is rugged and it’s rough. At least it’s justice gentlemen and peace officers. You don’t see the security and that’s why it’s safe. You don’t see God either, you can still have faith in Him. That’s timeless security. There’s a light in the sky and you depend on it, it doesn’t depend on you. Then it’s lights out for them. Take your stop watch and gun and go home, when you get home sit in the dark.


September 12, 2010 @ 7:13 am

One point man with light can destroy thousands of trigger men in the dark and they’ll need more no point men. Ars Magna and other violent stops along the way. We have the trigger men wasting themselves, driven off in disgrace. Stay driven on in grace, it’s a long road with lots of points of interest. Who are you going to send now? I guess all we can do is send flowers and watch the line of cars go bye. Not a shot was fired and he laid them to rest and the rest is history. Live in peace and thank your lucky stars for NASA braves. Space is for speeding and light weapons are for concealing. The boom can get sonic and diamonds are congealed sunlight. You got fake stones or real ones. One is fragile and five real ones are secure 5-0ver and out.

Big 10-4 good buddy.


September 12, 2010 @ 7:38 am

$1,000 Iranian bounty payments eh. Now we’re going to break out all your windows boom-boom-boom style from space and beyond. Broken glass everywhere, we don’t care. They won’t have enough money for replacement glass. Have a glass of wine and say cheese. It’s going to hurt your ears and shatter you hopes in the future. We’ll keep raising hell and breaking windows. God breaks a window and closes a door. My head is worth a grand, maybe two. You American girls the best. Keep it real and sonic. I need new windows and that’s several grand. We’ll waste Iranians for nothing then have a glass of bourbon neat. It’ll be hit-n-fun!


September 12, 2010 @ 8:44 am

Flag burning planned at Park Place to protest protest of new mosque. If feels like something got in the way. We’ve been at it for longer than you. Get a room and go boom-boom-boom!

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 12, 2010 @ 8:59 am

Escape From Freedom was that the name of the Eric Fromm book. Is sense of vulerability always equatability with desire of some for more authoritarian order that seemingly can reduce the equations of life that make life vulnerable? All evidence is that when order versus individualism debate occurs in context of major threats or change the order side of the equation seems to win. But then after a time the order side is seen to bring its own inherent collapse but only from outside influences. Rarely does actual reform occur from within. The US is heavily invested in a society that protects the status quo even when those less priviledged suffer. Will this be the future? Or will outside pressure from new or old threats cause that stasus to collaps? Some evidence to me that 9/11/01 did not encourage reform but did accellerate collpase of societal norms? Surveillance society? Who actually benefits when community policing ends and SWAT approach and surveillance approach gets the best funding and brain power that might be applied is denied access. Was democracy a fluke? I don’t think so but the shrillness of the right and left leads one to conclude the so-called “public intellectuals” have failed by continue to argue over number of angels on the head of a pin, as opposed to spending time on constructive activity for future of humanity.
Is history detective advocating use of tactical nukes in his writings? If so does not really understand these weapons! IMO of course.


September 12, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

A pilot can make an honest error in navigation and electrical systems can jam, so even intelligence can become confused and you get 9/11 attacks. Then there’s the aftermath and you get police plying gestapo tactics crossing the wrong lines. You can walk into trouble that you can’t walk out of and waste the rest of your life wondering if you made a difference. I don’t go around asking for names and addresses. You don’t waste just a guy in a Hummer, you waste Hummer call it waste management and go home for a quiet drink. Too many levels of management and if your organization looks like GM it is in waste management sized trouble. Toss the waste management salesman in dumpsters or for home service bagster him. We’ll just keep having a big old pig roast and a hot fire. Sears and fuses are a piece of cake, so let them have cake. I like the buildings standing, even if they are empty. Tactical nukes require too much clean up work and have you priced a dumpster today? Icing people is fine just so the right people get iced.

I’m with the Iced Tea Party. You might like the Long Island branch. Chicken dinner is fine, just so the chicken has been paid for instead of poached. I seem to be missing some ammo. As usual keep weapons caches in haystacks and root cellars. Keep your bombs secure and your girlfriends happy.


September 12, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

Hit the road Jack. Avoid the ditch on the left and right. Suppose you could put him in a scrap copper box and use the landfill for a cemetery. Found my namesake grave. No stone, just paper in the vault. You’d have a heck of a time finding the guy and if you did, you wouldn’t like what you found so stay lost or mind your own little business. Build more waste incinerators and we’ll fill them for you. Suppose he could go in there to save copper and space. I’ll crush the Hummer and we can march on a road of bones.


September 12, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

The people against the human race are advocating going from two sexes to three, so the pastors wife is frustrated because the sex isn’t good. Some religions are worse than others. Some sex is better than being bored in bed. We put you to sleep, just not the way you are thinking if you are still thinking. Some people are not, which should be obvious.

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