On this, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 it would behoove us all to look at the last decade, not through the eyes of emotional rhetoric, but through the sharp lenses of cold hard facts. Emotionalism can twist any sentiment, advocate any position, but facts are facts, and will always be so. Stripped of their ‘amorphous protection’ and identified into the spotlight, we can provide much-needed context, and objectiveness.
Not all that long ago, there was an attack on a famous landmark building. A group of foreigners who identified themselves as having a belief system were alleged to be behind it all, and persecutions of that group followed. A law was quickly passed to deal with this ‘new threat to the state’ by removing or negating protections under the law. This was used to build a state surveillance and control mechanism, with the stated aim of ‘protecting’ its citizens from further attacks, including the formation of new federal level offices and security groups. Not long after, the country also started fighting international wars, to further protect the country from those it saw as a threat.
If you thought I was describing the US over the last ten years, you’d be close. In fact, I was describing Germany in the 1930s.(I cite Godwin’s law and claim my £5) The Reichstag Fire of 1933 was blamed on communists (Dutch, and Bulgarian) Which led to all communists being persecuted (and arrested, even those who were elected officials). An act suspending civil rights – Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State – was passed the day after the fire. The following year the Gestapo was formed, and then eventually, military actions against other countries, to ‘secure’ areas took place.
The man accused and convicted in a Nazi court of the Reichstag fire, Marinus van der Lubbe, was acquitted in 2008 (posthumously, since he was executed in 1934) since the trial was politically motivated.
Let’s compare 9/11 to the Reichstag Fire. They are groups of foreigners with a certain belief system (religious, rather than political) who are claimed (I’m not saying they did or did not, just sticking to the strict facts) to have attacked a building (The World Trade Centers and the Pentagon). As a result, others who claim that belief are derogated and persecuted. A new law stripping citizens of their rights (the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act ) was passed in a rush, unread by most elected officials even to this day. A new state security organization, the TSA, was formed, as was the ‘Department of Homeland Security, and of course, we have two wars ongoing, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nor are these the only two examples. After the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, the same sorts of things happened. The belief group was Catholic, the law passed was the Popish Recusants Act, and while there were no new state security mechanisms, the use of the Star Chamber had grown under James I and his son Charles I. Wars were absent too, but expansion into the new territories of the Americas occurred at this time instead.
There is a tendency throughout history then, for leaders to feel threatened by actions, to use populist outrage over an incident to bolster populist support that otherwise would spark massive outrage. While it could be argued that the acts did ‘make the country safe’ in that no new attacks took place, such attacks are rare in themselves that there are only a handful of examples from 400 years of Western History. If there had been a law passed in the 1930’s against massive asteroids impacting the earth (creating a K-T event) would we consider it a success? After all, no such impacts have happened. No, because we know that no impact happened anyway. Likewise, without the Patriot Act, would there have been more terrorist incidents in the US? Unlikely. A recent investigation by the website Mother Jones found that of all the claimed ‘terrorist attacks’ on the US in the late few years, all but three were heavily infiltrated, and instigated by US agencies. The three that weren’t were also the three that came closest to succeeding, but also were not stopped by any of the security mechanisms, but by ordinary citizens. Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were stopped by passengers and flight-crew, last year’s Time Square bomb attempt was spotted by two street venders.
All three failed in the end, because of a lack of knowledge and only AFTER they’d attempted to detonate. If the laws and agencies created failed to deal with this, then they are a FAILURE. What do you do with failures? Instead, the laws and agencies are touted as ‘necessary‘, ‘essential‘, and ‘a success‘. That leaves the question, what are the necessary, essential actions that can be deemed a success? Were the Gestapo and Star Chambers a success too? Their proponents certainly thought so, but how will history judge things?