Five years ago today, communists burned down the Reichstag.
Sorry, I’m getting my history confused. That’s not fair, anyway: the Nazis probably did organise the burning of the Reichstag, whereas the destruction of the World Trade Center was an external attack—no matter how serendipitous it has been for political leaders of a repressive tendency. In the US, all 342 pages of the USAPATRIOT act were drafted (or, if you are sceptical, pulled down from the ‘future projects’ shelf and dusted off) and rushed through the legislative process within six weeks of 11th September. It’s still in effect. In the UK, lacking a local terror attack until much later on, it took them longer to get going, but we’ve had a number of attacks on our liberty, the most draconian of which is probably SOCPA.
Five years ago, we were told that the enemy was a man in a cave in Afghanistan. Now, no one knows or even cares where Osama bin Laden is. In incompetent retaliation for the 2,973 deaths of 11th September 2001, the US and UK military together have sacrificed 3,089 personnel in the ‘war on terror’—a conflict that has killed an estimated 72,000 civilians. As part of this war, with no defined enemy or limits, US operatives kidnap people to be tortured—sorry, subjected to an alternative set of procedures—in a network of secret prison camps.
It is now clear—to me, at any rate—that the true enemy is not Bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein, or Iran, or North Korea. It is our leaders—and by extension ourselves, for letting them get away with it. Gone is the stoicism of another age, when the IRA regularly bombed sites around the UK, helped by the generous funding of supporters in the US. Now, we cower at an invisible threat and throw away centuries of freedoms for a new world order that paradoxically makes us less secure. No longer may we protest outside the seat of government. No longer do we have the right not to be imprisoned without trial. If we wish to travel, we must submit to ever-more-intrusive security theatricals. We may not take musical instruments or refreshments with us on our flights. We may not even wear the wrong T-shirts.
Perhaps we have simply forgotten that politicians are our servants and not our masters. Perhaps we have forgotten that rights cannot be granted, merely curtailed. Perhaps we just don’t care any more: a diet of processed swill, consumerism and reality TV has sapped away any will to fight from our indolent, obesening bodies. Perhaps we get what we deserve, if we are stupid enough to believe the lies we are told.
What was done to us—by which I mean the once-liberal Western democracies—on September 11th was terrible. But what we have done to ourselves and the rest of the world since then is much, much worse.