9-11: The Day We Forgot Everything

In retrospect, it seems that the big shift in consciousness that occurred after 9-11 was that we forgot everything that we had learned in Vietnam. In particular, we forgot that there are our powers are not unlimited, that there are other actors in the world, and that there are times, when even the armed forces of the United States cannot acheive their goals.

George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other leaders of the administration had never learned these particular lessons from Vietnam, and had clung all these years to the delusion that the US was self-defeated there, by a failure of the will.

But many others, who did know better, forgot what they knew after 9-11. We had been hurt; we felt vulnerable; we were angry; the anger made us feel strong; the world seemed a different place because we were feeling strong.

It was said that "everything changed on 9-11", which is rather hard to believe. More accurately, everything looked different to us after 9-11, because our emotional state had changed.

  • And so, the cautious realism about the use of military force was forgotten
  • And so, the truth that most people in the world are not willing to be pawns in the global ideological rivalries by which we organize the world was forgotten
  • And so, the truth that, in an open information world, that a great power will learn that its army is being defeated from its own citizens, and not from its own messengers from the front, was forgotten.
  • And so, the truth that the "national will" is a not resource deployable by the national government, any more than the weather is, was forgotten.
  • And so, the truth that most Americans, from the heights of power to the rank and file soldier or marine in the field simply does not know enough about the history, politics and culture of other countries to be anything but foreign invaders and occupiers, was forgotten.
If the lessons of Vietnam were forgotten on 9-11, the last five years have been a testing of the opposite proposition: that the reason why the US failed in Vietnam was a failure of national will. The administration has gone to great lengths to summon up the national will to fight the War in Iraq: overblown and deceptive intelligence, Churchillian rhetoric, appeals to the high values of democracy and human rights, secrecy, news manipulation, endless repetition of clearly refuted falsehoods. Their control of Congress has meant no Congressional hearings where questions can be raised. They have Fox News, and talk radio and countless blogs. And yet, the national will to fight this war steadily weakens. Why? Because the fact that our intervention in Iraq is failing is to obvious to hide. And it is failing for all the reasons that were predictable, if we remember what we learned in Vietnam.

Digby, one of my favorite bloggers, has pointed out that before 9-11, America was awash in nostalgia and sentiment for World War II and the "greatest generation." He comments that after 9-11, the nation quickly adopted WW2 as the lens through which we would view this new situation. For baby boomers, it was to forget our own experience in favor of a sentimentalized, simplified, cinematic, ersatz memory of our parents experience.

Of course, it was bound to fail.


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