I grew up in the giant shadow of the World Trade Center. Born in Brooklyn, I was raised in Middletown, New Jersey—a commuter town that lost almost 50 people on 9/11. My father worked for a shipping company that was one of the center's original tenants, and I myself worked and lived in the city for several years. I now live 500 miles away from Manhattan, but like millions of Americans, I spent that horrific September morning frantically checking on friends and relatives.
It is a measure of the attacks' magnitude that virtually everyone I've talked with in the past year has a close connection to 9/11. Depending on how the situation in Iraq, the crisis in the Middle East, and a number of other things play out, 9/11 may well end up as the defining event of the 21st century, though perhaps not in the way we might have first expected.
I firmly agree with Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, who recently said, "The idea of [the terrorists'] strength is an illusion….The terrorists can fly a plane, but what they can't do is build a plane. What they can't do is build those towers." The conflict between the liberal West and reactionary elements in Islam has already been ugly, and it may continue for years or even decades. But the outcome is hardly in question: The system that delivers greater material wealth and greater personal freedom will triumph.
Yet the exact long-term effects of 9/11 are far from clear. Like everyone else, we at Reason have spent much of the past year trying to make sense of the attacks and their aftermath. In dozens of pieces for the magazine and Reason online, we've explored the role of anti-Western "Occidentalism" in the attacks; analyzed how 9/11 has altered American cultural identity; detailed how "vulgar" culture has liberated Islam and the West; documented the real effects of U.N. sanctions against Iraq; reaffirmed that the defining quality of liberal democracy is tolerance; and much more. (These and other stories are collected online.)
On the anniversary of 9/11, we continue our efforts in a special section titled "What Price Safety?: Security and Freedom in an Age of Fear" (page 24). Our contributors look at the ways in which 9/11 is subtly—and not so subtly—restructuring American life, especially with regard to civil liberties. In "Freedom for Safety," I suggest that by swapping the former for the latter, we are slowly undermining both. David Kopel and Michael Krause detail the abysmal track record and massive potential for abuse of increasingly popular surveillance systems that employ "facial recognition technology." In "The Forever War," Senior Editor Jacob Sullum challenges the conventional wisdom that our current state of alert should abrogate constitutional rights. Jeffrey Benner exposes pending legislation that will effectively gut the Freedom of Information Act, and Ted Galen Carpenter lays out the essential elements of an effective U.S. foreign policy. On the flip side, Associate Editor Jesse Walker reminds us of what hasn't changed ("Laughter in the Ruins," page 22).
These are hardly our final words on 9/11 and its impact on our lives. Indeed, even as the attacks fade in time and memory, they will continue to cast a shadow over us as long as the World Trade Center's used to be.
In a recent Reason Online debate (reprinted in our June issue), Francis Fukuyama argued that genetic enhancement will almost certainly lead to a nightmare world straight out of Friedrich Nietzsche's twisted mind. In his new book, Our Posthuman Future, Fukuyama throws another scary shadow on the wall, one of robust old folks who "refuse to get out of the way; not just of their children, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
I've no doubt that such bizarre and misplaced fears tap into their authors' deeply felt personal anxieties. Yet I'm even more certain that my children's lives have been greatly impoverished, not "blessed," by their grandparents' absence.