The Day the Terrorists Won

Six years ago today I was moving from class to class, a Senior in High School, trying to catch the latest news as it came in. The attacks happened just before the start of the school day, as I was settling into my Biology II classroom. The science teachers were listening to the radio in the little office that adjoined the two lab rooms, and at some point my Bio teacher brought in a TV.

We watched the continuous news feed, where reporters tried to hide their panic as they broadcast every piece of news and rumor as it came in. There’s another plane circling over the Atlantic, there was a bomb in the Pentagon, there was a mysterious truck parked outside the White House, and so on. Information got distorted through a lens of fear and confusion.

If I learned anything in my classes that day, I’ve long since forgotten. But there was a lesson to be learned on 9/11, and sadly few ever paid it any attention.

The purpose of terrorism is not to kill large numbers of people, it is not to strike at guarded targets in order to cripple military might. The purpose of terrorism is to incite fear. Terrorists are not powerful armies, they are not superpowers, they are not nations. At best, they are guerrilla soldiers fighting dirty against superior numbers and superior firepower; usually they are loose confederations of desperate individuals united against some common enemy. They are mice against lions, relying primarily on psychological power. By making the lion cower in a corner, the mouse can claim an uncontested victory.

Look at our nation, six years later. We have given in to fear, to panic, to that fluttering terror that gripped us when we first saw the footage of the symbolism-laden attacks. We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated by power-hungry politicians and corrupt corporations. We have traded our essential freedoms–against warrantless wiretapping, against unlawful searches, against imprisonment without representation and due process, against cruel and unusual punishment, and so on–for the mere promise–the empty, unfulfilled promise of temporary security. And when we have thought to speak up, to cry out, to make a stand and say no more, we have stepped aside every time, for fear of being called “unpatriotic.”

We have allowed an idiot to lead us into an unnecessary war, needlessly spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and bringing the criminals behind 9/11 no closer to justice. We have allowed his cronies to run roughshod over the Constitution, and to fill the highest levels of government with people who refuse to be held accountable for their actions, who undermine checks and balances at every turn, who commit high crimes and misdemeanors and laugh at our inaction. And we have allowed–encouraged!–it all to happen under the banner of “9/11.”

We have lived six years in fear, planted by nineteen hijackers and carefully cultivated by a corrupt government. The time has long since come to suck up our pride, to recognize our mistakes, and to take responsibility for them. The time has long since come to bring our young men and women home from an endless war, to actually do something about national and international security, and to take back our rights and our country from the people who have perverted and purloined it. Foreign terrorists won on September 11, 2001, and they got away with it. Let’s make sure that the domestic terrorists, who have won every day since, aren’t so lucky.

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