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 August 2002, go here.
On August 23, in a piece ascribed to "Lincoln's Hat," we noted how the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was being hijacked by politicians looking to secure votes and future offices. Then-Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.) announced that he would read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to memorialize the dead of September 11, 2001. His gubernatorial challenger (and current Empire State jefe), Andrew Cuomo, countered by saying he would read the same document on September 10.
[The] question is why so many politicians are in a hurry to wrap themselves in Honest Abe's clothes. It can't just be nostalgia for such Civil War-era faves as mass conscription and the suspension of habeas corpus; after all, those are fast becoming realities with no help from history.
No, the incongruous reading of Lincoln's speech is useful to give the 9/11 commemoration an air of ongoing national crisis. Every smart politician knows that horrible times work wonders for historical reputations. Receiving anthrax-tainted mail so boosted the national profile of Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) that it wouldn't be surprising to find he mailed the letter to himself. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) invites comparisons to Churchillfor a little tough talk about Saddam Hussein. Our most highly rated presidents have consistently been those who enjoyed great national crises—preferably involving the deaths or impoverishment of innumerable obscure citizens. Sure, holding office during a time of peace and plenty looks good on paper, but who wants to be Warren G. Harding?
Thus, the solemnity of the September 11 anniversary won't just be about honoring thousands of murdered office workers. It will be an attempt to extend the lease on our National Coming Together for another year.
Our October 2002 cover asked, "What Price Safety?" and the issue included stories on how fabulous-sounding facial recognition software was in fact too fabulous to believe, how the government used claims of "national security" to undermine Freedom of Information Act requests, and why the old "Freedom For Safety" swap guaranteed neither. The full table of contents is here.
As the Bush administration began openly pressing its case for an invasion of Iraq after losing the trail of Bin Laden in Central Asia, the Cato Institute's foreign policy don Ted Galen Carpenter outlined basic ways in which the U.S. should fix its foreign policy. Among his suggestions:
Reject the "light switch" model of engagement. American involvement in world affairs can take a variety of forms. Yet whenever critics suggest pruning Washington's overgrown global security commitments, defenders of the status quo reflexively cry "isolationism." That reaction reflects what might be called the light switch theory of American engagement, in which there are only two possible positions, on or off. Either the United States continues pursuing an indiscriminate global interventionist policy that puts our soldiers at risk in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and the like, or we turn into "Fortress America" and "wall ourselves off from the world."
The contention is either disingenuous or obtuse. No serious analyst advocates creating a hermit republic. It is possible to adopt a security policy between the extremes of global interventionism—essentially the current policy—and Fortress America. Moreover, there are different forms of engagement in world affairs, of which the political-military version is merely one. Economic ties are increasingly important, as are diplomatic and cultural connections.
There is no reason why the United States must have identical positions along each axis of engagement. It is entirely feasible to have extensive economic and cultural relations with the rest of the world and to have an active and creative diplomacy without playing the role of the world's policeman, much less the world's armed social worker. It is only in the areas of security commitments and military intervention that the United States needs serious reductions in its level of engagement.
In "The Forever War," Jacob Sullum looked at how an ongoing "war on terrorism" was changing the way government treated not just enemies but citizens.
[After the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan], what was left looked less like World War II, and more like the war on drugs: an intermittently violent campaign against an amorphous enemy that can never be decisively vanquished. Bush did not declare war on Al Qaeda or the Taliban; he declared war on terrorism, which will be with us in one form or another for the foreseeable future….
In 1866, Sullum wrote, the Supreme Court held that the rights of Indiana's Lamdin P. Milligan had been violated when he was tried by a military tribunal rather than a civilian court:
Milligan, living in a state threatened by invasion, was accused of secretly assisting the enemy in a war on U.S. soil that imperiled the Union's very existence. The vindication of his rights in these circumstances speaks volumes about the need to be wary of arbitrary power, especially during times when the public is least likely to resist it. "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with its shield of protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances," the Court declared. It noted that the Framers "foresaw that troublous times would arise, when rulers and people would become restive under restraint, and seek by sharp and decisive measures to accomplish ends deemed just and proper; and that the principles of constitutional liberty would be in peril, unless established by irrepealable law."
If the Civil War did not trump the Constitution, it's hard to see why the war on terrorism should.
Jesse Walker focued on the unheralded return to something like normalcy in the year since the attacks:
Unlike many writers, I didn't fret much about the future of dissent after 9/11, except in the larger sense that everyone in the country, dissidents included, might, you know, die. Within weeks, the most radical positions short of actual support for Al Qaeda were being not just championed but rewarded. Michael Moore had a best-selling book. Hell—Noam Chomsky had a best-selling book. It wasn't just possible to challenge the consensus; it was profitable. The only prominent casualty has beenPolitically Incorrect, and that was already on its way to a long-deserved death….
In the year since the World Trade Center came down, it's been gratifying to note all the things that haven't changed. I can still watch old Tex Avery shorts on the Cartoon Network. I can still listen to half-crazed talk show cranks. I can still buy a ridiculous array of tasty, unhealthy snacks at any convenience store—and the convenience store in my old neighborhood is still operated by Arab-Americans.
But it is still possible to dissent from the war on terrorism. It is still possible to make really inappropriate jokes about the war on terrorism. It's even possible, sometimes, to ignore the war on terrorism. The "new national purpose" we've heard so much about has not throttled the stuff of everyday life.
To read previous entries in Remembering 9/11 and related stories, go here.