Yesterday, I spent five hours watching documentaries on the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol building. With one exception—a Geraldo Rivera special on the military response—the programs focused on the tragedy itself. They told heart-wrenching tales of heroism and suffering. They contrasted mesmerizing footage of horrific crime scenes with shockingly mundane images of the murdered men and women; their loved ones, homes and lives. One program ended with a jarring image: the face of Osama Bin Laden above the caption “Killed 2011.” The producer clearly implied a sense of closure—where none exists . . .
When U.S. troops entered the terrorists’ breeding ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was the realization of President Bush’s pledge to avenge our collective loss. Our failure in both theaters was almost as spectacular as the atrocities that triggered the military campaign.
Sure, we took out a whole bunch of bad guys. We forestalled attacks against the homeland. But our soldiers became mired in not one but two un-winnable wars. In short order, the number of U.S. casualties in these God-forsaken sewers of sectarian violence surpassed the number of casualties (not including 19 hijackers) killed on 911 (2,977).
I’m not saying the 911 terrorists “won,” but we spent tens of billions of dollars on foreign entanglements and sent thousands of our sons and daughters to their deaths. The terrorist threat may be diminished, but it remains. Meanwhile, the fear inspired by 911 has taken a huge toll on our political system.
Capitalizing on public anxiety, the U.S. government added tens of thousands of law enforcement officials to its bloated roster of federal police. Two new agencies were born: the Department of Homeland Security and the Transport Security Administration. The Patriot Act gave them all expanded powers—sacrificing individual liberty on the altar of collective security.
And yet an important message has reached the masses, one that has profoundly altered their relationship with their government. Uncle Sam can’t keep you safe. Ipso facto. It can’t because it didn’t; terrorists successfully attacked America’s financial and bureaucratic heart.
In that sense, September 11th represets the loss of innocence for an entire generation. The terrorists breached our psychological defenses. They violated our “personal space” and eliminated our sense of safety and security.
There is no closure. No sense of “mission accomplished.” Even those who took solace in Osama bin Laden’s assassination aren’t naive enough to believe that they can let their guard down. Especially in the wake of the announcement of a specific, credible but unidentified threat against either New York City or Washington, D.C. Or somewhere . . .
Of more concern to this website’s readers, Americans applied the main lesson of 911—Big Brother can’t protect you from evil—to their personal circumstances. Despite declining crime rates, despite a larger, increasingly militarized police, tens of millions of Americans bought a self-defense gun. Millions more shifted their position on gun rights, supporting the right to own and/or carry a firearms for self-defense.
The Supreme Court played their part in this paradigm shift. But so did the 911 hijackers. While none of these fanatics used a gun, all of them held a metaphorical gun to our nation’s head—and pulled the trigger. Americans “remembered” that you can’t prevent or reason with evil. If you’re defending yourself, your loved ones, your community and your country, it’s better to have a firearm than not.
Our post-911 enthusiasm for the Second Amendment has nothing to do with the actual odds of a terrorist or criminal attack. Americans have decided to arm themselves just in case. And just as there’s nothing right about what the terrorists did to innocent lives, there’s nothing wrong with innocent lives taking responsibility for their own protection.