“People respond to fear, not to love,” Richard Nixon once said of American voters. “They don’t teach this in Sunday school, but it’s true.”
In the 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Nixon’s jaundice view of democracy was tested and often proved to be correct. However, compared with the four-year presidential term, it is better to understand from the ground how the first attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor changed the story of the United States.
No matter how far they are from the smoldering wreckage of the Twin Towers, the Americans wake up on 9/12 to find a world that has been permanently changed compared to 9/10. “Think back to those weeks in New York at the end of summer [in 2001] It feels like the weightless moment of a ball reaching the top, if its arc has not started to fall,” writes Evan Osnos, author Badlands.
Ever since Thucydides predicted that the expansion of the Athenian Empire would face the risk of tyranny at home and abroad, scholars have warned that war cannot be isolated from the society that prosecutes it. Despite this, George W. Bush and his successors still tried to separate the “global war on terrorism” from the daily lives of Americans.
On the one hand, they succeeded. As Samuel Moyn showed in his knowledgeable and fascinating book, humaneNowadays, lawyers, like generals, are an indispensable part of the American war. According to Mohn, the “kill list” that Barack Obama analyzed so carefully resulted in more civilian deaths than his White House was prepared to admit-4,000 deaths in the wasteland of Waziristan, Pakistan alone. But these numbers are insignificant when compared with the hundreds of thousands or more people who died in American carpet bombing during the Vietnam and Korean Wars.
In Moen’s recounting, Obama was forced to shuttle between “two Georges”-Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern (George McGovern) in 1972 opposed Nixon’s disastrous anti-war movement made him The party became always tough, and George Bush went beyond 9/11’s mandate and launched an invasion of Iraq. Obama did this by putting all of this on a sounder legal basis. On the same day Obama banned torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” he launched his first drone attack. He did more in the first year than Bush did during his entire eight years as president.
A few weeks after taking office, Obama “globalized” and “formalized” US anti-terrorism theories, surpassing Bush’s morally objectionable stance. “This is the original reason for the humane killing spree that the sun may never fall into space or the end of time,” Mohn wrote.
In this regard, Obama is the spokesperson of the new era of American “humanitarian” battles-this war is far from even those murderers. Obama said in the first volume of his memoirs that he wanted to save the young people who brought so much trouble to the United States—sending them to school, doing business for them, and freeing them from hatred. Obama wrote: “However, the world they are in, and the machines I command, are more for me to kill them.”
The greatest value of Moen’s book lies in the ethical issues he raised. Now that today’s war has become less bloody, and there are fewer and fewer Americans involved, what can prevent it from becoming eternal? If you are a hawk, the answer is: who cares? As long as terrorists are being eliminated, the US government is doing its job. The problem is that not every American president takes their goals as seriously as Obama (see Donald Trump). In addition, what prevents other countries, such as China, from using their killer drones for similar purposes?
Then there is the future of autonomous drones, which will have lethal capabilities based on algorithms rather than human calculations. Compared with human judgment, their record may be as good as that of a self-driving car. Nevertheless, this is a terrible prospect. Compared with previous slaughter wars, humanitarian wars may be more difficult to end. “The militant moral improvement may just beautify it,” Mohn said.
Whether President Joe Biden will withdraw remains to be seen Afghanistan If it were not for the remote-controlled global war on terrorism, this would mark the end of the actual combat aspect of the “eternal war” of the United States. But the changes that 9/11 brought to American society show little signs of abating. Through the wealth of three places—Clarksburg, West Virginia; Greenwich, Connecticut; and South Chicago—Osnoss recorded the changes after 9/11, which “brought the United States to the brink of collapse.” “.
Among them, the move towards a more military culture may be the most tangible. The United States now has 13 million citizens with concealed gun permits, more than 12 times the number of police officers. As a lobbyist from the National Rifle Association told Osnos, the al Qaeda attack was a huge windfall for the American gun lobby. The collapse of the Twin Towers occurred after a decade of sharp decline in crime and gun sales. Suddenly, people developed a new kind of paranoia towards terrorists.
In fact, the risk of Americans being killed in a terrorist attack was and is still very small. In a 2016 poll, Americans estimated that one in six citizens are Muslims. The real answer is one in 100. The NRA uses these xenophobic fears for profitable purposes. Gun companies shifted from targeting deer hunting and duck hunting to marketing the idea that anyone can become a SEAL. The NRA video depicts Americans bravely fighting terrorists wearing tactical combat equipment. “You have to work very hard to find things that are designed to kill animals, not people,” wrote a hunting enthusiast in the new era of gun marketing. Similar cultural changes can be observed in the military. The United States ended its conscription in 1973. Since then, 0.5% of the recruited society has participated in the war-mainly from the poorer rural and urban areas of the United States.
In the days after 9/11, Bush urged fellow Americans to continue living as usual—go skiing and continue shopping. His admonitions after the horrific and visualized attacks on American civilians were mainly based on concerns about consumer emotional breakdown. But they have incorporated a culture that is increasingly inclined to pose aggressively without risking personal consequences. Therefore, the concept of war as a joint sacrifice was also cut off.
The term of President Bush is very similar to that of President Trump, marked by substantial tax cuts. The second is the development of martial arts culture. The United States after 9/11 was marked by increasing inequality. Osnos, the writer of The New Yorker, illustrates this trend through the rise of hedge funds in his hometown of Greenwich. Greenwich has become a prosperous banking town. A magnet that attracts billionaires and insider trading cases.
Many of them increase their net assets by investing in divestiture companies that deprive miners in West Virginia of the pension and health care they deserve—blessed by the U.S. bankruptcy court that supports companies. During the same period, West Virginia and many other “backward” states changed from Democrats to Republicans.
In 2000, Bush became the first non-current Republican to win West Virginia since Herbert Hoover. In 2012, Obama lost every county in the state to Mitt Romney. Although voters in the state have little illusions about Trump’s promise to restore the coal industry, they feel culturally closer to him than to Democrats such as Hillary Clinton. To a large extent, this can be attributed to the consequences of the 9/11 incident.
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Osnos’s book covers the time between the collapse of the Twin Towers and the fall of the Capitol on January 6 this year—during this time, “Americans lost their vision for the common good,” he believes. You don’t need to share the author’s implicit optimism about the collective sentiments before the terrorist attack, and you don’t need to agree with his clear description of what has happened since then. Nearly one-fifth of those arrested for the attack on Capitol Hill this year were former American soldiers—more than 20 times the proportion of their population. As Mohn said, the way we fight is related to the way we behave at home.
In early 2003, the now-deceased novelist Norman Mailer warned that democracy is “a condition that we will be required to defend in the coming years.” Mailer’s foresight is still relevant.
humane: How the U.S. Abandoned Peace and Remade War Samuel Moyn Farrar, Straus and Giroux $30, 416 pages, published in the UK in January
Badlands: American anger Evan Osnos Farrar, Straus and Giroux $30/Bloomsbury £20, 480 pages
Edward Luce Is the U.S. country editor of the Financial Times
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