Remembering 9/11: Unity Gives Way to Politics, Flying After the Attacks, Robert Higgs Predicts the Growth of Government
Throughout this week, we'll be posting old and new Reason material related to the 9/11 attacks.
To see a snapshot of what Reason.com (then called Reason Online) looked like in late September 2001, go here.
On September 12, 2001, Reason Washington Correspondent Sam MacDonald observed that while the nation's newfound sense of unity appeared to transcend politics, the eventual response to the terrorist attacks would not:
Given the horrific violence the nation suffered yesterday, this kind of unity is not only to be expected, it's to be applauded. Countless commentators have expressed how important it is to wrestle with this national heartache outside the traditional ring of partisan politics—a notion that bipartisan politicians in the halls of congress and the barstools at Stetson's have firmly grasped.
If grief is bipartisan, however, action is inherently political. Everyone agrees that the perpetrators must pay and that we have to prevent such attacks in the future, but beyond that nothing is certain.
Whom should we attack, and how? How are we going to fix the obviously flawed security systems we have in place? How are we going to pay for it, and what civil liberties are we willing to sacrifice? How do you conduct foreign policy in a places vehemently opposed to U.S. actions and interests?
When the candlelight vigils are over and the camouflaged humvees are gone, people on opposite ends of the political spectrum will answer these questions in fundamentally different ways. How the nation resolves those differences may well be the true legacy of September 11, 2001.
On September 14, 2001, Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty boarded a Southwest Airlines shuttle flight at Los Angeles airport. It was Southwest's first full day of operations after the 9/11 attacks. As he reported on September 17, "I experienced firsthand the difference between the old security regime and the new."
The L.A. airport-once publicly targeted by the Unabomber and other terrorists—has instituted extraordinary security measures, including some not in place at all airports: Private vehicles are, at least for now, barred from entering the airport itself. You can no longer drop off or pick up passengers curbside. Everyone must enter and leave from the satellite parking lots, blocks away, and get ferried to and fro in shuttle buses.
The other changes in security are in place everywhere across the country: an end to curbside baggage check-in (a feel-good "security" measure that will have no effect on crimes such as Tuesday's) and the barring of all but ticketed passengers from airline gates beyond the security checkpoint (again, an act of dubious security virtues)….
At the foot of the escalator leading up to the security checkpoint and the gates, three Southwest employees made sure I was a ticketed passenger. They descended upon me, the only customer around, eagerly. Going through the checkpoint for me was normal and easy: No requests to open my bag, no waving of wands. Behind me, another passenger was asked politely if he would open and turn on his laptop. "Whatever you guys need me to do," he replied.
In late September 2001, as the U.S. military began gearing up for Operation Infinite Justice in Afghanistan—a war the U.S. continues to wage today—Reason Contributing Editor Michael Young interviewed economic historian Robert Higgs about how past national security crises have encouraged the growth of government, which is the central theme of Higgs' classic book Crisis and Leviathan.
REASON: Are the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a large enough crisis to feed Leviathan?
Higgs: It's a big enough perceived emergency to cause the government to extend into areas it may not have moved into so quickly, particularly surveillance of ordinary citizens and ordinary locations where people might congregate for business or recreational purposes.
REASON: Is it appropriate for individuals to worry about government expanding at this time?
Higgs: It's extremely appropriate because historically, a large proportion of all government expansion has taken place as an emergency or crisis action. It's precisely under conditions such as those that exist at present that we ought to worry the most about the expansion of government.
REASON: What ought we to look for this time?
Higgs: We can expect thousands of reservists to be called to active duty and taken away from their ordinary jobs. We can expect the assignment of military forces to some unprecedented duties. It appears that some military units are going to be used for domestic police activities. It is clearly going to be the case that the FBI will become far more active in surveillance activities. The government will mount a variety of overseas actions requiring the armed forces, and perhaps a number of civilian employees, to attempt to kill, to disable, or to damage what are taken to be terrorist camps, facilities, or cadres. It is also fairly clear that the government is going to have to bail out the airline industry and maybe the insurance industry. When the government takes large-scale, unprecedented actions of this sort, unanticipated consequences always occur. Then the government has to expand even further to deal with those consequences.