Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 12, 2011


Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 12, 2011

Is it over yet?

A steadily increasing crescendo of 9/11-related retrospectives reached a closing act yesterday. While the power of “10” obviously carries powerful meaning when used to measure anniversaries, I can’t help but think that much of the focus on the specifics of that day and the unfolding of events thereafter should have taken place years earlier so as to begin thinking of the future.

Fellow bloggers on HLS Watch have done an admirable job highlighting the deficiencies in popular coverage of this anniversary, as well as reflecting on and tracking the solemn ceremonies marking the occasion.  At some point, perhaps beginning today, it may be appropriate to consider the questions: so what and what comes next?

So what?

Or put more delicately, did life really fundamentally change for everyone ten years ago?  Should we and are we ready to move on?

I do not wish to insult those who lost their lives on 9/11 or in the wars that followed, nor the memories cherished by their loved ones. Yet this massive outpouring of attention for one particular event that happened 10 years ago stands in stark contrast to other national traumas.  For instance, according to the Washington Post’s George Will, 10 years after Pearl Harbor there was comparatively little national attention paid to the anniversary of the attack that brought the United States into a world-spanning conflict that required the full mobilization of the nation and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

This is not to suggest the loss of that day should not be honored.  The trauma was all too real, and scars on the national psyche will remain for some time to come.  Those living in New York City and Washington, DC in particular live under the constant dark clouds of the threat of additional attacks.

Yet outside of those personally touched by the attacks and a very narrow slice of our society that works and lives in the military, intelligence, law enforcement, and other security-related fields, how much did life change because of 9/11?  A few additional inconvenient security measures at airports and borders aside, the daily lives of most citizens would be similar today if the attacks had never occurred.

So was 9/11 an inflection point in U.S. history or simply an event large enough to focus the entire nation’s attention on a threat that had existed for years?  The World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 with the intent of toppling one tower into the other.  U.S. embassies were bombed and a warship almost sunk.  A small group of self-radicalized American citizens attacked a symbol of the federal government in Oklahoma City.  Until 9/11, the threat of terrorism was persistent but not deemed large enough to reorient our entire strategic outlook.  Were we under-reacting eleven years ago or overreacting this past decade? Can we find the sweet spot?

What comes next?

The predominate memes since 9/11 have fluctuated with time: the worst is yet to come, most likely in the form of WMDs…obviously Iraq had a hand in this attack…a worldwide jihadist movement is arrayed against the U.S….it is only a matter of time before IEDs become a staple of the homeland threat……planes, planes, planes…the Mumbai active shooter attack is the wave of the future… “homegrown” terrorists, self-radicalized individuals, and lone gunmen are the primary threat….

It seems at time that the government is unable to play a game of multi-dimensional chess.  Attention must be focused on the risk du jour and not spread among simultaneous possibilities.  Homegrown terrorism and complex plots originating overseas involving the use of especially destructive technologies cannot exist at the same time. Or at least so it seems listening to security officials pontificate about what keeps them up at night (does anyone in Washington sleep?).

Hurricane Katrina reminded us that we also live under the specter of catastrophic natural disasters.  Homeland security came to rhetorically embrace the concept of “all hazards.” This added another level to the already complex chess board.  It is easy to separate a terrorist threat from a hurricane projected to impact the U.S., but practically how does society realistically prepare for intentional man-made, technological, and natural threats?  Is this a question that cuts to the idea of resilience?  Are we already much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for? New Yorkers do not run screaming from terrorist threats anymore than Floridians panic about tropical storms.  Perhaps we are trying to solve problems that do not exist while ignoring the issues that deserve attention.  Or maybe we have been lucky and the fragile nature of modern society has yet to be really stressed.

These questions are not new and have been asked in various forums across multiple disciplines.  Now that we have given past events due consideration, is it time to seriously think about the future?

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 12, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

Arnold, It is not over yet. But I hope most of us asked some version of your questions during the last couple of weeks, if not before. Good on you for being explicit.

I doubt we will find a sweet spot. We will instead swing hither and yon: thesis to antithesis, with nary a moment of synthesis between. “Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

If it was not terrorism we would find another excuse. We have, it seems, come to claim our identity primarily in contrast with some “other”. We have succumbed to the narcissism of small differences.

Until we are ready to put away this perverted self-regard, I’m afraid we are essentially trapped; just as much as any self-deceiving terrorist.

It is really too beautiful a day for such dark thoughts, but ask an honest question…

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September 12, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 12, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

Whatever its impact on the USA and its people, culture and history, it is becoming imaginable that like WWI was the suicide of Western Civilization (largely imploding on the logic of its world dominance of the 500 years of the gunpowder age] 9/11/01 may well represent the suicide of Islam wherein its expansion can now only be accomplished by demographics not belief. It is now very clear that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are completely unable to renounce an internal nihilism when it comes to violence. And the atomic/nuclear age only propelled nihilism further with absurd doctrines like MAD [mutual assured destruction] that still is US strategic policy, even as non-state actors seize technology to disrupt nation-states.

Reap what you shall have sown! The fact that the leadership of the USA continues to seize violence as the fundamental approach to its problems may seem unbelievable at a future time.

A friend reported 20 fully swatted up police officers breakfasting in a north Arlington diner last thursday morning and wondered to me whether that was an effective use of police assets and an understanding of domestic threats.

Simply amazing how fear used by DEMs and Republicans to drive political viewpoints. Perhaps the focus on the human side of the 9/11/01 victims and responders was an inherent effort to correct what the man and woman on the street view as the absurdity of its political leadership. Are voters being offered real choices on Homeland Security? Time will tell. I will worry about any democracy in which fear is the governing doctrine.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 13, 2011 @ 7:16 am

I notice that today’s FEDERAL REGISTER Tuesday September 13 has the President’s continuation of a National Emergency declared originally on September 14th 2001 in which he concludes there is an “immediate and direct threat of attack on the US” and wondering if that is true why is it confined to the rather dull pages of the FEDERAL REGISTER? Does this officially mean no progress in deterrance of attacks since 9/11/01 despite the expenditure of Trillions? Perhaps so! Perhaps not!

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