Prose and Thorn

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Perry Goodfriend

Perry Goodfriend
August 29
Turn off the TV and turn on the activism. Follow Prose and Thorn, the prick that makes you think. Perry B Goodfriend is a published writer and journalist in Atlanta, Georgia. He also produces political and corporate videos. He even occasionally makes money at it. Follow PnT: @proseandthorn Most posts originate on

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SEPTEMBER 7, 2011 10:33AM

Shaken confidence: U.S. culpability in a post 9-11 world

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9/11 attacks in New York City. (US National Park Service)

American resolve formed around the twisted steel ruins of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in 2001, like 15-ton concrete blocks around re-bar. Our determination to avenge the acts of September 11 was certainly not a question. What should have been questioned at the time and wasn’t, was how we would react as a nation, after the shock, after the dust, after the sun rose on the twelfth and there were holes in the New York City skyline, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

Hearts began to heal, even then, for those of us who were not directly affected by loss of a beloved family member, though as a nation, for weeks, palpable sorrow rode over us in waves, like bands of a fading hurricane. We had weathered the eye of the storm, and though buffeted by its aftermath, we would have found our own way to heal. Still, the government sought to intervene on our grief, distract us from our sorrow. They told us to behave as if nothing had happened, nothing to worry our pretty little heads about. Like a father who doesn’t want to bother his young children with difficult realities, we were told to “go shopping.”

At that point, the wall of American resolve segmented. Our willingness to stand together as a nation of guaranteed Constitutional liberties was broken. Instead of one, united wall, standing on the shoulders of our founding fathers, of the greatness of our Republic, our leaders gave in to the inevitability of war, the justification of hate, the easy propaganda of a public willing not to have to understand what happened.

“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” George W. Bush told the country that night. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”

But if one were to ask Osama bin Laden why he organized the attacks, he would not have said, “I wanted to extinguish the freedom the infidels represent.” His motives were more political than cultural. Having characterized the attacks that way, though, Bush made it possible for our government to begin dismantling those very freedoms of which he spoke, and blame it on the terrorists. His administration could then characterize its subsequent freedom squashing actions of torture, rendition and wiretapping, of invading Iraq, as a godly fight against “evil-doers,” and necessary.

President Bush and his administration’s springboard reaction was predictable, and the enemy who attacked us was counting on it. Though the world stood with us as brothers against the wanton destruction of lives, and the disruption of commerce the events of 9/11 brought, there were concerns that, in its reaction, a power as great as the United States could potentially abandon the concept of America as “guardian of liberty,” and engage in some wanton destruction of her own.

European newspapers were saying, within a week of the attacks, that although the old world saw the coalition building Bush was engaged in as a good sign, “The ‘war against terrorism’ is no licence to kill,” and “that even in Europe there are reservations about the US’s policy.” Unchecked, a military power like ours, combined with our immaturity as a nation, had the potential to subvert the peace of the entire planet.

Our elected representatives, afraid of appearing dovish, authorized two wars and the liberty limiting Patriot Act. Our check on political power, the radio, television and the newspaper agencies, afraid of appearing as unpatriotic outliers, asked only who we were going after and when. Few asked why.

Those who questioned our leadership’s course of action were quickly blackballed, black listed, really. Less than a week after the attacks, comedic pundit Bill Maher’s ABC-TV show, Politically Incorrect, was cancelled shortly after he called President Bush out, for calling the attacks “cowardly acts.”

“We have been the cowards,” insisted Maher, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.”

Bush and Dick Cheney have said many times that “history will decide” whether their administration’s policies  were necessary for the country and good for the world.  This anniversary is not just a time to reflect on the tragedy of what happened on that bright, Tuesday morning, ten years ago. It is a time to ponder the tragedy of what has happened to our country since: increasing intolerance; attacking the construction of mosques in communities where Muslims have lived for decades; the rise of Christian Dominionism; anti-immigrant paranoia; candidates who would have been considered part of a lunatic fringe twenty years ago are suddenly mainstream; and we continue to fight the longest wars in our history.

“While fighting a war with al Qaeda, America has waged a political war with itself,” the Rand Corporation‘s terrorism experts observed in a report released this past July. “This is nothing new in American life…[b]ut the shadow of 9/11 across America has exacerbated the internal conflicts. Fear may lie at the heart of much of America’s response, just as the terrorists intended. But the terrorist attacks have…if anything…magnified the extremes within America, from the isolationist impulse to go it alone to the internationalist impulse to remain a beacon of freedom for the world, from the reluctance to engage to the desire to sort things out. In what could be the final legacy of 9/11,” the Rand report continues, “the terrorist attacks have compelled America to become an exaggerated version of itself, with its own internal contradictions heightened and intensified.”

History, then, will not only judge the merits of our leaders and where they took us; it will also decide how far we allowed our country to be taken from the ideals in which the founders of this country believed, and for which, generations of Americans have fought and died. Who stood? Where did they stand? What did they do when they stood there?

On September 11, 2001, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, seemingly spontaneously, “God Bless America,” in unison. It was, arguably, the high point of national unity that horrible day. We all stood with them.

Where did you stand, and what are you willing to do now to restore America as a beacon of liberty?

One World Trade, aka Freedom Tower, and other construction at Ground Zero, the corner of Liberty St. & Greenwich St., New York City. (June 2, 2011, by PBG)


Filed under: 9/11, politics Tagged: Bill Maher, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, islamaphobia, Osama bin Laden, Rand Corporation, World Trade Center

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Rather than serve as a symbol of positive unity and thoughtful national resolve, 9/11 exposed the dark under belly of the American character. It seemed to trigger all that which apparently had been hidden during the years of social progress. The willingness to so easily give in to the manipulators of division and fear, the McCarthyesque latent authoritarian mindset, the mindless acceptance of jingoistic, nationalism, the increase in bigotry and fear of the other- of all stripes, unwillingness to question authority, susceptibility to hyper emotional religiosity, apparent loss of the capacity for rational, logical, independent just goes on and on...

No stiff upper lips here...
Lots of good introspective reasoning and questions; as for the europeans you started losing us (as far as public opinion, we stayed in with the military) as we realised from the beginning that the war that you were seeing on your tv was totally different from the one we were seeing on ours (and Al Jazeera)....what with the embedded USA reporters, all dressed up in their Armani desert garbs, that were always showing the back of your tanks and troops and not much of the suffering on either side (more on the civilian population) which allowed that grand virtual victory circus act by Bush on one of your warships

Yes indeed , please get back to be the beacon of liberty if you still can
Wonderful post. You eloquently said what I've been trying to say for a long time.

We're glad to demonize the enemy with stupid, bumper sticker sentiments because it's much easier than trying to understand what their beefs with us really are and ask the hard questions that may shed some light on whether they are legitimate or not.

We are playing right into their hopes by imploding and destroying the things about our country that actually did make it special once.
Thank you for this post. Invading Iraq, a country that didn't attack us and had nothing to do with it, was an incomprehensible response to 9/11, following the outpouring of sympathy from all around the world.

The Honor the Fallen website ( has the names and photos of the servicemen and servicewomen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, now listed as 6,207. The Brookings Institute estimates Iraqi fatalities to be over 100,000, and the estimates vary very widely, but it is thought that maybe 35% of Iraqi children have lost one or both parents.

"Where did you stand, and what are you willing to do now to restore America...?" is a really good question...what can we do to collectively change our understanding and way of thinking, so our nation's policies will follow? Our belief system is too destructive for ourselves and for the rest of the world.
To the Euro-readers, I appreciate the validation. I almost wish it were more difficult to stand outside the melee of American political behavior and poke holes in the critical decisions of our elected officials. I love my country, and I still believe we can be an example of exceptionally thoughtful civil discourse, open to everyone.
your understanding of american history is deeply flawed. 'idealists' wrote the words americans like to quote, but the activities of the state have always been radically different.

and even the 'idealists' were vile hypocrites and cynical opportunists.
See "" made by a devout Muslim for some ideas about what the radicals (his term too) want. He is working to oppose them.
thx for the link man!
nice post, fyi I included it in an open salon essay collection/compilation and my own 911 analysis commentary here