By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend
With the month of September finally over, we are now just past the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and as such, we can allow ourselves some sober reflections, away from the mass media hype..
The attacks of September 11, 2001 truly represented one of the most barbaric acts in the history of our country. Social Democrats USA still mourns the lives of the 2,977 people who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center. However, the United States went off the rails at this point in our history. First, we invaded Afghanistan when we just should have conducted a counterterrorism operation to capture and punish Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network. Then we turned the operation into a war to transform the country into a Western democracy. Second, we invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, for another war of choice. While our country is told by those in the political sphere that we have no money for domestic investment, we can always find money for forever wars. When remembering a sad event like September 11, 2001, we must remember the mistakes our country made shortly after the attacks.
One of the reasons why we made such mistakes was the talking heads in media (cable news, talk radio, internet) that conflated any criticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with treason. At that time the American public was confused and really couldn’t comprehend what was happening to our country until years later when the mistakes became more apparent. This chapter in our history carries a lesson about observing foreign affairs, and politics in general, in a stoic manner. We must control our passions and really think about the next move our country should make. This is hard in a world where politics is played around the clock via talk radio, cable news, social media, and several internet media. The way in which information is presented militates against the sound thinking required for a productive democratic republic.
However, one of the bright spots at this point in our history was the way in which the American public came together after the attacks. We put aside the culture wars raging at the time and pulled together for a common cause. This is something so missing in today’s America. Unfortunately, there were some attacks on mosques in the aftermath of September 11, and we shouldn’t tolerate this hatred. We should also not forget another bad moment from 20 years ago, the way we were lied to by the George W Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This led to a war in that country that destabilized the entire Middle East. Then the problems snowballed into the Syrian Civil War and refugee problems that empowered authoritarian politicians in Europe.
As awful as terrorism is, more people have died in the Covid-19 pandemic What do we see in the pandemic? Resistance to masking, social distancing, and vaccination, the types of things that will keep us from returning to the normal that everyone, despite their political affiliation, wants to do. We also see insane behavior exhibited by people who trust quack remedies and animal medicine (horses and cows) to cure the virus over exhaustively tested vaccines and medications all in the name of some misbegotten nonsense about personal liberty. Many of the same uninformative media voices are playing the same role they did after September 11, 2001. The tea party revolt, a revolt led by Republican voters against the Republican establishment, was the start of the irrationality that encouraged some to pour hatred on non-whites, “liberals,” and men and women of science. This is sold as “owning the libs.” Now we have the equivalent of a 9/11 event every two days. In this season of introspection and making amends, we really need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves if this country is governable and if we can really be the United States of America.
Social democrats believe in democracy in both the political and economic sphere. The democratic republic is being challenged by both authoritarian democracies and just out-and-out dictatorships (China). We can’t have a more social democratic America if we don’t have a vibrant democratic republic. Let’s honor those who lost their lives on September 11, and the military members who lost their lives in the wars that stemmed from that tragedy. However, let’s not forget the overarching lesson that the terrorist attack taught us – that we must critically question the information before us. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!
Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.