Today is a day when most Americans will spend a little, or a lot of time, remembering the spectacularly successful terrorist attacks that took place five years ago. The President is out wreath laying, people are listening to memories., NPR is playing lots of memories recorded at the time and talking to victims.
Lots of people say the world changed on September 11, 2001. I disagree. The world didn't change so much as we changed. America has spent most of its existence in blissful isolation. We have the world's two largest oceans on our borders and no truly powerful neighbors. for most of our existence Europeans played power games that distracted each other. Big Oceans, a powerful Navy and rivals preoccupied by dangerous neighbors have granted Americans a level of security that most nations can only dream of. We fight our wars on other people's property.
Being unused to explosions at home, we sort of lost it as a nation when the fanatics struck. To me the panic was especially strong among the American right. The talk continues that "If we weren't fighting them there (Iraq), we'll be fighting them here." President Bush recently compared bin Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
That assertion is patently absurd. al-Qaeda doesn't have the power to fight in our streets. To paraphrase Stalin :"How many divisions does he have?" Hitler was an evil man, but what made him a real threat was the German Army combined with the ground attack capabilities of the Luftwaffe. What made the Soviet Union a menace was tens of thousands of tanks and an only somewhat smaller number of nuclear missiles. Hitler marched into people's cities and took them over. Stalin invaded a few people himself and if the balloon had gone up between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|Soviet Union] and the United States hundreds of millions would have died within hours.
To compare bin Laden to Hitler or Stalin is laughable, or it should be if we were a sane people. But we're not. Bin Laden can't invade anyone. He controls no territory, his tank stock is zero. He has no navy.
What bin Laden is capable of is bluster, and the occassional suicide bombing. The very occasitonal suicide bombing. But today I listened to reports claming America was full of sleeper cells. Of course the President and the Republican Party have made a lot of milage scaring people. So has the news media, who realizes that fear gets ratings. And we've fallen for it. Our President has fallen for it, and if anyone needs to stay calm it's our POTUS.
Nothing in the entire world will make the U.S. completely safe from terrorism. As Frederick the Great put it: "He who tries to be strong everywhere, is strong nowhere." We will never be totally safe. But al-Qaeda is a lot better at making threats than it is in blowing things up. Bad as the attacks were, they don't add up to a single month's worth of traffic accidents.
Terrorism isn't the weapon of the strong. Real threats have other means. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak, the moral equivalent of a two-year old's tantrum. It is nothing more that that. Terrorists cannot defeat America or unmake our way of life. Only we can do that by giving away our rights in the useless pursuit of absolute security. By constantly using fear to pump up their own electoral chances, Republicans are dancing to al Queda's tune. Living in fear is what they want us to do.
So to the conservatives I return the words you have so often thrown at the poor and dispossesed: Get over it! The threat to our freedoms and way of life never came from abroad. As Pogo once put it, "We have met the Enemy and he is Us."