Monday, September 11, 2023

Be Careful What Education You Wish For

Today's edition of "could he really be that ignorant" comes courtesy of United States Representative Andrew Gabarino.  (The correct answer typically is "no.") Gabarino, a Republican from New York, here states "a lot of kids have now gone through college that were born after 9/11 and they may never have heard what actually happened that day."

The genius chatting with him responds "well, that's my question, too, we always say 'never again' but are we forgetting?" "Never again" refers to the Holocaust, in which approximately 2,000 times as many innocent people were murdered. But to some people, there is no world outside of the USA, so Gabarino complains "I won't let people forget and a lot of my colleagues won't. It's a bipartisan resolution, um, and it's something that we're going to keep passing until states start putting this in their curriculum."

Hint: if an event is replaced with a date, it has become a thing. The attack on Pearl Harbor never became big enough in the public consciousness to become "12/7" but "9/11" allows this more recent event to live on forever as a cliche. And as the comments upon Gabarino's comment indicate, "9/11" is taught virtually every year in virtually every school in virtually every state.

It should be taught thoroughly and honestly.  Good luck with that if we won't be sufficiently honest to refer to it as "the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001."  However, in the unlikely event Will Bunch has his way, the short, medium-term, and long-term impact of those attacks will be remembered and taught.   While condemning the "banal evil" displayed on that day two decades prior, the Philadelphia Inquirer columnist on September 5, 2021 applauded "the killing  of bin Laden and the minimizing of at least the old, original al-Qaeda" and "an airport-security regime that's successfully prevented any hijackings for these two decades."  Nonetheless, the bombings of that day are

a reminder that America could have spent the last 20 years only doing what was necessary — shoring up our anti-terrorism regime on U.S. soil, and right-sizing our role in the world. Instead, our hubris — which was actually masking our inner fears — that America must respond to any threat to our daydreams of exceptionalism with massive force caused us to double down on military imperialism with tragic consequences, in a tortured odyssey that led us full circle to last month’s chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport.

If you're old enough, you remember those fearful, yet self-congratulatory, days and months following the attack during the Bush 43 Administration, in which we Americans were praised for "coming together as one."  Bunch recalls

Any national unity dissolved rapidly into fear and paranoia, which a cynical new government in Washington preferred to exploit rather than tamp down — the better to plant our flag in oil-rich lands abroad and silence any dissent here at home. Those bad tidings — and the conspiratorial mindset we embraced in the wake of 9/11 — would be turned against nations that had nothing to do with the attacks, against immigrants in general, against legitimate protest, and finally, inevitably, against one another. The era that started with the Islamic radicals who hijacked Flight 93 failing to reach the U.S. Capitol dome ended with American fanatics breaching its rotunda.

That outcome may have well been Osama bin Laden's wet dream. Optimistically- though probably not realistically- Bunch believes

Textbooks on political propaganda will, for centuries, study how everyday citizens’ righteous anger and fears over 9/11 were manipulated to win support for invading an oil-rich nation, in Iraq, that had nothing to do with the 2001 attack, and for spending $2.2 trillion and 20 years in Afghanistan on a mission that should have been measured in months. But perhaps even worse, in the long run, was the Cheney doctrine that America needed to project strength in the world by establishing a gulag archipelago of black prison sites where the inhumane dark art of torture was (counter-productively) practiced — its immoral center a concentration camp at Gitmo. It was only natural that this polar opposite of a “kinder, gentler America” would bleed into other areas.

It was able to do so not only because of the development of a massive national security bureaucracy but because, with nary a word from our "liberal media," it was labeled "homeland security." The term "homeland" was almost unknown until its use by officials of the Third Reich and fell into disuse until (perhaps not coincidentally) it was popularized by the the Palestinian Muslim movement in the 1970s to validate its dubious claims upon the Jewish state of Israel. In mid-September 2001, it was disastrously invoked to urge a muscular response to the perceived threat to the nation. Thirteen years later, the great Washington Post journalist Philip Bump noted

It's clear that there was something evocative about the term, combining a bit of military jargon with the idea in need of protection. This wasn't just America that was attacked, it was our homeland. We didn't simply need more security at our airports, we needed homeland defense....  On September 20th, (President George W) Bush addressed Congress and announced the Department of Homeland Security.

Four months after the attacks, the American Dialect Society held its annual vote for Word of the Year, focused on 2001. The group included "homeland" among its candidates. It lost to "9-11."

It was fashionable to repeat "America will never be the same again." Far less superficially, Bunch argues "America was never the same again after 9/11 because the new 'homeland-security state' inevitably criminalized immigration."  Moreover

America was never the same again after 9/11 because homeland security also became a buzzword for stifling political dissent in our own streets, especially as all the surplus military equipment created by our costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan found its way to urban and even small-town police departments, who policed protests with riot gear and mass arrests. When the Department of Homeland Security sent a federal military force in 2020 to Portland to battle anti-racism protesters, there was an aura of inevitability that the monster of 9/11 had been turned against our own citizens.

America was never the same again after 9/11 because the blatant lies that were told to U.S. citizens to invent the case for invading Iraq, easily swallowed by the mainstream media in a shameful moment of jingoistic cheerleading, created the petri dish of cynicism and distrust that allowed conspiracy theories to nurture and grow, first about 9/11 itself but eventually about matters as diverse as “the Big Lie” of the 2020 election or COVID-19 vaccines. The cable-TV news regime that grew in the wake of 9/11 often fueled misinformation instead of quelling it.

I'm not as sanguine as is Bunch that "textbooks on political propaganda will for centuries" explain how politicians, their allies, and the media manipulated the emotions of we the people into support for the expanded military-industrial complex, vast surveillance apparatus, and torture regime that  has gone insufficiently challenged the past couple of decades. Nonetheless, Representative Gabarino ought to be careful about advocating for (presumably) an expansion of emphasis in schools on the events of September 11, 2001. The information taught might actually be comprehensive and truthful, which would be unpleasant for those who would prefer history be viewed as never-ending confirmation of American Exceptionalism.


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