Fourteen years after the greatest terrorist attack on the soil of the United States, one thing is clear: virtually everything we thought about America in the days after 9/11 was wrong.
Reading through the rhetoric and press coverage of the time as we approached this anniversary, a few threads run through nearly every piece and speech. First, that Americans are more united than they have ever been in understanding who we are and our place in the world. Second, that we are grappling with a new and different sort of enemy, but one that will be defeated with the same American attributes that have sustained us in the past. And third, that so long as we act with purpose and clarity, the world will stand with us in what we must do next – that we are not alone.
Fourteen years later, it is astonishing the degree to which these and other lessons of that day have been forgotten, rendered moot, or cast aside.
Shocking as it seems, America didn’t learn much at all from 9/11. It was not a particular moment of cultural or political change in American society. No generally held assumptions were overturned. No historical watershed was reached. It yielded no great art or literature. The monuments to the dead are for the most part defeatist, not expressions of resolve. What was baked into America’s future on the 10th of September, 2001 was still there on the 12th of September, 2001. The nation did not change.
As a matter of foreign policy, America tried first the optimistic and interventionist agenda of George W. Bush, which began with lofty words about the freedom of all peoples, and ended with a 180 degree shift in policy in an attempt to make Iraq a place where beheading day wasn’t every day that ended in “y”. It shifted afterwards to the incoherent policies of Barack Obama, which have allowed a vacuum so chaotic, this very week The White House cannot decide between supporting Vladimir Putin in battling ISIS, or supporting arms against him in seeking to topple Assad.
Source: 9/11: The Day We Forgot