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Did 9/11 Change Everything?

Over at Religion Dispatches, Paul Harvey says that it did not. Why? I’ll let him explain:

The cliché that 9/11 “changed everything” is nowhere less true than in the post-9/11 impulse to declare war immediately. War was a choice as well as an echo: a choice Americans made, and an echo of how Americans have made decisions in times of previous conflict. In that sense, 9/11 changed nothing. That’s because, to paraphrase Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges: war is a force that gives Americans meaning through their history, largely because powerful impulses in American religion have historically sacralized war’s religious, redemptive force.

Harvey goes on to explain how the telling of history changes the raw violence of war into a stirring, emotional pick-me-up. Harvey quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes reflections on his Civil War service:

War and narrative in some sense create one another. War is not random, shapeless violence. Fighting is reconceived as war because of how humans write and speak about it; it is framed as a story, with a plot that imbues its actors with both individual and shared purpose and is intended to move toward victory for one or another side. To rename violence as war is to give it teleology. This is why it can provide the satisfaction of meaning to its participants; this too is why it offers such a natural attraction to writers and historians.

Harvey then reflects on the beginnings of this process after 9/11:

Since the metaphor of “war” has suffused nearly everything in recent American history, from Communism to poverty to drugs, it is no surprise that President Bush’s unscripted remark a few days after 9/11, “war on terrorism,” came to define the struggle of our age. No surprise, but not inevitable; other choices exist, but have little chance of defining the national response because they lack the religious connection of war, violence, and redemption. Nor can they satisfy the national urge towards vengeance. Legal and political responses seem pallid in comparison to the religious force and power contained within war—particularly in a war against originators of an unprovoked attack which murdered civilians indiscriminately.

Read the rest here. Interesting to think how much the culture has influenced the types of responses we consider as a country. We didn’t reflect very much on what we might be able to do to decrease Arab motivation to attack us, we simply entered into the “bunker mentality” and decided to attack the nebulous enemy, while restricting freedoms in the US in the name of security. You can read more of my reflections here.

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