Post 9-11, Americans should think about what’s at stake
The events of 9-11 prove that New York really is the center of the universe. The miserable thugs who were behind the attack knew that. They didn’t choose Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles for their despicable attack. They chose New York because they wanted to inspire as much fear and terror as possible. They hijacked another plane and sent it to Washington, the seat of government, to make a different kind of point. They succeeded in creating the kind of reaction that the Japanese inspired among the American people after Pearl Harbor. They brought Americans and, for a brief time, the rest of the world together. We can argue about what came later: Iraq, waterboarding, torture and a Patriot Act that should make Americans shiver. But there can be no denying that if their intention was to depress and demoralize the American people, they did not succeed. The death and destruction caused by 9-11 was so terrible, so hateful, that they could only do themselves harm. Admiral Yamamoto was said to worry that the attack on Pearl Harbor would awaken the sleeping giant. It did.
When the American people woke up after Pearl Harbor, they did some things that history has recorded as being both unfair and stupid. Assuming that all Japanese people were so fanatical in their obsequiousness to the Emperor, they placed entire families in internment camps. You can easily put yourself in the place of so many America-loving Japanese. Of course, in the case of Japan, we were at war with a nation and in the 9-11 case we were not. We were at war with some organized thugs who had a lot of people in the Muslim world believing in their cause. It turns out that many Americans have little patience for the Muslim community because the folks who are still trying to do us harm are Muslims. The case of what has been called “the Mosque at Ground Zero” demonstrates that.
With some regularity we hear stories about racial profiling of Muslims in America by police and intelligence authorities. While these allegations are met with denial, there can be no doubt that intelligence is being collected in the more radical segments of the Muslim community. This is the way it has always been done. On several occasions, other attacks have been thwarted — sometimes because of our intelligence; sometimes because of just plain dumb luck; sometimes because of incompetence on the part of terrorists or would-be terrorists. One thing is certain — New York has always been the target and will continue to be so. Remember, the Twin Towers were attacked not once, but twice. The first time, when Mario Cuomo was governor, the explosion failed to do the kind of damage we saw on 9-11. The second time we know what happened.
I think most Americans are smart enough to know that this is going to be a difficult balancing act. We know that intelligence agencies can be used for partisan political purposes. Nixon wanted the Jews and the arts people investigated. J. Edgar Hoover went after Martin Luther King in the most despicable ways. The problem is that when you set up intelligence agencies and there is nobody looking over their shoulders, you can lose control. Years later, we are still looking at people’s files with horror.
President Clinton stood next to George Bush the other day and thanked him for keeping America safe. If you were innocent of any crimes and had been “rendered” to Guantanamo, you might not have been as appreciative. If you were the parent of a kid who was killed in the name of Democracy, fighting in a war that, it turns out, was based on false information, you might tend to look at things differently.
There are no easy answers here, just balancing, but every American ought to be thinking about what’s at stake.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 9/12/11