Foreign Policy: 9/11 was 'The Great Distraction'

In 1987, I visited the World Trade Center and looked out from Windows on the World to see the entire New York skyline from a thousand feet up. In early October 2001, while in the New York area to visit family and friends, I saw the craters where the World Trade Center once stood and then visited the offices of Moody’s, the bond rating agency. Located near the WTC, its street was closed, but the building was open to employees, one of whom gave me a tour of the offices. Everything inside was covered in a thick gray dust, as a result of the explosions, which killed 3000 people, over a mile away away.


From my perspective, the sense of anger and frustration was palpable. But hey, we were all “shaken and clearly disoriented” back then, in the midst of an “emotion-fueled maelstrom,” according to David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy:

We spoke of 9/11 as though it were somehow equivalent to Pearl Harbor, the beginning of a global war against enemies bent on, and at least theoretically capable of, destroying the American way of life (unlike al Qaeda, a ragtag band of extremists with limited punch). We spoke of cultural wars and a divided world. We reorganized our entire security establishment to go after a few thousand bad guys. We went mad.

And now, as we are recovering our senses, withdrawing from Iraq, and soon starting to exit Afghanistan, having buried bin Laden and hosts of his henchmen, we are beginning to be able to see this. At least in theory we can. For the next couple of weeks, we will witness documentary after editorial mega-feature, interviews with victims and heroes, the American legend machine producing historical bumpf at full blast. That is not, by the way, to diminish the brutal blows struck 10 years ago or the deeply felt human experiences associated with it and its aftermath. Rather it is to say that once again we will seek to frame 9/11 as a great event, the definer of an era, when in fact, its greatest defining characteristic was that of a distraction — The Great Distraction — that drew America’s focus and that of many in the world from the greater issues of our time. That distraction and the opportunity costs associated with it were bin Laden’s triumph and our loss — and our ultimate victory will come as we get a grip back on reality.

One way to demonstrate that restoration of historical sensibility comes if we ask ourselves, looking back over the past 10 years, what other developments took place that exceed 9/11 in lasting importance? What events of the past decade will historians write of that will have them looking past or beyond the attack, its masterminds, or its immediate response? There are scores, I suspect. Here are just 10 that come to me off the top of my head.


Note this comparison:

6. The Invention of Social Media

What’s more important? Knocking down the World Trade Center and killing several thousand innocents or linking half a billion people together as never before (as Facebook did)? Passing notes from cave to cave in Waziristan or fueling a Twitter revolution in Cairo’s Tahrir Square? It’s not even close.

Or to sum up the entire article in a single sentence, “It’s not that he didn’t know…It’s that he didn’t much care.”

Incidentally, note what makes #2 on his list of items more important than 9/11, yet another reminder (as is this) of Julia Gorin’s insight back in 2006 that Global Warming is the left’s Moral Equivalent of the War on Terror.


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