Brussels—Anniversaries offer an opportunity to assess, with the perspective afforded by the passage of time, who got things right and who did not.
Unfortunately, in an age when so much of our media bows more to power than accuracy, that does not mean that those who got things right will be turned to for advice and counsel.
In fact, quite the opposite.
So it is that, as the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon approached, the most prominently featured 9/11 figure was former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The term employed most frequently by commentators—aside from “Darth Vader”—to describe Cheney’s recollections of 9/11 and its aftermath has been “no apologies.” That is because Cheney has so very much to apologize for.
But not everyone got 9/11 wrong.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the attacks, I joined Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in keynoting the “Journalism in the Shadow of Terror Laws” conference at the Centre de Presse International in Brussels.
Robinson said many striking things in her remarks to the session we addressed, but what stuck with me was an off-hand reflection. “I remember,” she said, “the loneliness of speaking out against the declaration of a ‘war on terrorism.’ ”
The language we use to characterize events defines our response to them and when crimes against humanity were defined as acts of war, explained Robinson, then an appropriate demand that those responsible for horrific violence be brought to justice was replaced with the overwrought and overarching demands of “a perpetual war of terror.”
This is a vital reference point for what is actually a week of anniversaries.
September 11 marks a vital anniversary, but so, too, does September 14, the day that the Congress of the United States authorized a “war on terror.” The human toll of that war has been immense, as has the political toll for a United States that has lost both good will and authority over the past decade. And the financial cost, according to new accounting by the National Priorities Project, is staggering: more than $7.6 trillion in defense and homeland security spending.
It is not realistic to suggest that, had there been no attacks on September 11, 2001, all or even most of that $7.6 trillion would have been spent on more necessary and fruitful projects. America had a military-industrial complex before 9/11 and it would have one even if terrorists had not attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.