The Council on Foreign Relations convened a panel of experts to review what the 15 years since September 11, 2001 have brought — besides what they are now calling the “Forever War.” There is the temptation to regard the years since as bootless — 15 years of strategic defeat, dishonesty and humiliation, as Newt Gingrich put it — but there is no denying they have also served an an extended period of recon by fire. We know more, if nothing else. The failures and success in those 15 years have revealed power arrangements the public never knew existed.
America began that autumn day in a state of innocence. The man in the street knew next to nothing about the Middle East or Islam, subjects about which he since learned a great deal (both the good and the bad). The average commuter took for granted the idea that governments would loyally represent their population. He has since discovered the extent to which that is and is not true. Citizens bought the papers and thought they told them something. Now they understand the limits of that. And the public did not know its own heart. It has since searched its corners, both and good and evil.
In a word, we know where we are. That is why this Sept 11 feels different from every one since the first.
Events since September 11 showed that the globalized world is unwilling to resolve conflicts involving major financial and economic factors by responding with conventional military and diplomatic instruments. Even a challenge like September 11 would be ignored if it were bad for business. Any attempts to resort to these methods will be vetoed.
The end of the Bush era marked the rejection of these former methods and with them signaled the apparent decline of national action, indeed of the nation state. In its place would stand the transnational institutions. In that sense Bush was the “last president” in the old mold, just as Obama was to be the first of the new, one of a different type; a perfect representative of the successor order, a child of the world with no particular loyalties except to some vague arc of history.
The Obama era was an attempt to supersede the old methods with a system where only negotiations between the power elites were permissible to resolve problems. That was the theory at least. Unfortunately this method too is failing. It has failed to secure the future of the EU. It has failed to secure the Middle East, even the safety and existence of Saudi Arabia. It threatens to fail catastrophically in Asia. It has failed everywhere. It did not restore the anticipated stability. All it gave us was the Forever War.
Now, as the Obama era ends, it is apparent that the exhausted system is wholly out of ideas. It is an impotent failure which can prevent neither another future September 11,2001 nor indeed a future September 1, 1939. The press denies this, but the public has learned about the press. The last 15 years have not been wholly without result.
The publics of the world are now subconsciously aware that peril is near to them and are reacting by attempting to partially dismantle the globalized world as manifested by the Brexit and Trumpism. They are doing this because the ordinary person realizes far more astutely than the purblind political class that the current arrangements are much more fragile than described and are retreating to older forms in an attempt to survive. They know, even if their rulers do not, that the storm is not over; far from it. They are battening down the hatches against the gale which must come.
Whether or not they succeed remains to be seen but at least they will try unlike sophisticates who insist that there is no way back and are resigned to the consequences come what may. In times past those assurances may have swayed the public, but cultural and political elites have been wrong for so much this last decade and a half they may well be wrong about the future too.
On this September 11, Ground Zero has become Square One. The Twin Towers that rose once so proudly are distant memories now. But perhaps they have broken their silence at last, for memory has a way of speaking belatedly, as T.S. Eliot once observed, and those who would must listen.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire. …
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate …
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Follow Wretchard on Twitter
Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.
Recently purchased by readers:
A Dark and Bloody Ground: The Hurtgen Forest and the Roer River Dams, 1944-1945, by Edward Miller. The book’s description of the fighting around the forest and the Roer River dams is based on government records, a rich selection of first-person accounts from veterans of both sides, and Miller’s visits to the battlefield. The author examines uncertainty of command at the army, corps, and division levels and emphasizes the confusion and fear of ground combat at the level of company and battalion “where they do the dying.”
Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table, by Cita Stelzer. The author draws on previously untapped material, diaries of guests, and a wide variety of other sources to tell of some of the key dinners at which Churchill presided before, during and after World War II – including the important conferences at which he used his considerable skills to attempt to persuade his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to fight the war according to his strategic vision. 40 B&W illustrations.
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell. With Bill Moyers as his interviewer, Campbell reveals how the themes and symbols from the ancient narratives of Greece and Rome to the traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity bring meaning to birth, death, love, and war, and together identify the universality of human experience across time and culture.
Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck, Von Luck commanded Rommel’s 7th and then 21st Panzer Division. He fought in El Alamein, Kasserine Pass, Poland, Belgium, Normandy on D-Day, and the disastrous Russian front and was awarded the German Cross in Gold and the Knight’s Cross. His memoir has become a classic in the literature of World War II, a first-person chronicle of the glory–and the inevitable tragedy–of a superb soldier fighting Hitler’s war.
The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, By Mary Beard. Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, Pompeii and its ruins offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. Beard makes sense of the archaeological and historical evidence and explores what kind of town it was, offering us the big picture as well as the detail of ordinary life.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club