John sends occasional messages to a list of friends. This particular one arrived on Sunday, September 11, 2011. All the sunday papers were full of statements, predictions, analysis and opinions about what happened and what it meant. But nothing I read was as concise and comprehensible as what JPB wrote – yesterday and ten years ago.
A warning, ten years on…
Ten years ago, on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I sent the text appended below to the BarlowFriendz List. I resend it now, less with the smugness of having told you so – since there was little any of us could have done to prevent what followed – than with a heavy heart over how accurate my prediction proved to be.
The answer to terrorism is not fear. Nor is it violence. Nor is it transforming our country in the very ways Al Queda wished, thus betraying everything America stood for and becoming an arbitrarily violent and surveillant nation that routinely tortures perceived enemies and incarcerates them indefinitely without due process.
If only we’d had the courage and self-assurance to say, “Nice shooting, Assholes, but we have lots of tall buildings.” And left it at that. If only we’d had the courage to respond to terrorism with a steadfast unwillingness to be terrorized. If only we’d recognized the trap we were being led into. But we didn’t.
Now America is a parody of what it was that day 10 years ago. We have bankrupted ourselves and slaughtered tens of thousands with pointless wars of reaction. We have gutted our enlightened guarantees of civil liberty and governmental restraint. We have lost our way. And we have become the very monster Osama bin Laden perceived us to be.
This is a sad day indeed. Not merely because it refreshes the tragedies of that terrible day, but because it also reminds us of all the tragedies – most of them far worse and more permanent in effect – that we subsequently inflicted upon ourselves and on countless innocents here and abroad in reaction to those events.
In any case, this is what I said then:
This morning’s events are roughly equivalent to the Reichstag fire
that provided the social opportunity for the Nazi take-over of
I am not suggesting that, like the Nazis, the authoritarian forces
in America actually had a direct role in perpetrating this
mind-blistering tragedy. (Though their indirect role deserves a much
Nevertheless, nothing could serve those who believe that American
“safety” is more important than American liberty better than
something like this. Control freaks will dine on this day for the
rest of our lives.
Within a few hours, we will see beginning the most vigorous efforts
to end what remains of freedom in America. Those of who are willing
to sacrifice a little – largely illusory – safety in order to
maintain our faith in the original ideals of America will have to
fight for those ideals just as vigorously.
I beg you to begin NOW to do whatever you can – whether writing your
public officials, joining the ACLU or EFF, taking to the streets, or
living visibly free and fearless lives – to prevent the spasm of
control mania from destroying the dreams that far more have died for
over the last two hundred twenty five years than died this morning.
Don’t let the terrorists or (their natural allies) the fascists win.
Remember that the goal of terrorism is to create increasingly
paralytic totalitarianism in the government it attacks. Don’t give
them the satisfaction.
Fear nothing. Live free.
And, please, let us try to forgive those who have committed these
appalling crimes. If we hate them, we will become them.
May God – or Whatever you want to call It – bless us all. We’ll need it.