September 11, 2008

Nine one one oh one

Alongside millions of others, I spent the morning of September 11, 2001, watching the teevee in equal parts horror and disbelief. CBS News was perhaps the first network to broadcast unedited amateur video and audio of the planes hitting the World Trade Center.

It was the first — and likely the last — time I'd heard someone yell “Jesus fucking Christ!” on network television. That pretty much summed up my initial reaction as well.

In the afternoon I had fortuitous occasion to be in a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science class called “Conduct of American Foreign Affairs” taught by Prof. Steven B. Redd. It was both timely and extremely helpful in terms of putting the morning's events in larger perspective.

While Prof. Redd was — and presumably still is — an unapologetic conservative Republican, I don't recall any attempt on his part to equate the views of the immediate suspect, Osama bin Laden, with the positions of the political left or Democratic leaders in Congress.

Nor were there any intimations of placing the blame for the bloodthirsty, murderous attacks at the feet of “Pagans, Gays, and the ACLU,” as the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell and the not-yet-late but otherwise similarly unlamented Pat Robertson did.

But he did do an exemplary job at facilitating fruitful discussion.

Every once in awhile we need to be reminded that there are thoughtful and even scholarly conservative Republicans, as opposed to the contingent of reactionary dimwits that populates the blogosphere and wake up every morning to go and genuflect before what Michelle Malkin commands them to be outraged about today.

Prof. Redd was so fair minded, in fact, that he awarded me a 96 for a paper arguing in favor of U.S. ratification of the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, compared and contrasted with President Bush's Executive Order of November 13, 2001, which authorized the creation of military tribunals to hear cases against suspected al-Qaeda members.

It was a position, I suspect, in diametric opposition to his own.

I believe I lost the four remaining points mostly for formatting errors, although Prof. Redd did mildly chastise me for referring to Bush's power to institute the tribunals as “newly minted.”

I don't remember whether I subsequently defended myself over the use of the expression, which was partly facetious and mostly a response to the administration's attempt to equate the present tribunals with those established by the F. Roosevelt presidency.

Because, from a strictly constitutional perspective, Roosevelt's executive power was enhanced by a formal declaration of war by Congress, whereas the current administration's is not.

As for the formatting errors, I ascribe them to the fact that the paper was due only a couple of days after Bush's Executive Order appeared, and its issuance necessitated a drastic reorganization and rewrite of the material I had assembled to that point. There was a good deal of the proverbial midnight oil burnt, as I recall (a gallon of it was a lot cheaper then, too).

In retrospect I probably should have been awarded those remaining four points, because several of the military tribunals' constitutional infirmities that I described in my paper have since been recognized by a number of federal courts, including the highest one.

The moral of the story is that it didn't matter, in those days, whether you were a conservative Republican or a raving Trotskyite lobbying for aspects of world government. One of the effects of 9/11 was that it united Americans to a common purpose.

Indeed, it brought about a remarkable confluence of sympathetic international opinion toward the United States of America, including from the French and possibly even from Canadians.

And those days, of course, are long gone, thanks in large part to the Bush administration's “Conduct of American Foreign Affairs.”

Nevertheless, the memories of this day are not so easily shaken.


Clutch said...

I dunno, man. I think that nostalgia for the "we're all in this together" feeling that Americans had immediately post-9/11 is apt to involve self-deception over just what that feeling was.

It wasn't non-partisanship, I think, for the simple reason that it did not include the general run of Americans on the right/hawkish conceding, in a spirit of national unity, some of the stronger positions of people on the left/doveish. The concession was overwhelmingly asymmetrical -- for example, critics of American foreign policy (with few exceptions) deciding not to press very hard on America's own responsibility for Al Qaeda's existence, for OBL's position of strength, for the untouchability of the Saudi oligarchs who funded AQ, etc, and the media's deciding not to air even such few observations to this effect as were made.

The temporary appearance of national unity, I suggest, came down to the fact that the things being implicitly and explicitly agreed to, for the sake of unity, were canonical items in a particular rightwing library of fixations: America's moral pre-eminence, at least as represented in its foundations of government/founding documents; America's victimization from without; the vastly greater moral significance of American deaths than others; the untrustworthiness of Muslims... Few people on the left signed on to many of these things explicitly, in my view, but acting along with them and overlooking them for the sake of being One Big Unhappy was, I believe, a rather common ingredient in that feeling of togetherness.

So I'm sceptical about, and would caution against, that feeling of nostalgia. My suspicion -- obviously very difficult to support with anything like compelling argument! -- is that it is, in much too large a part, a wistful recollection for many left-liberals of their only experience of the intense but dirty pleasures of a xenophobic, hard-nationalist mob mentality -- even if they only experienced it fleetingly, partially, at the margins of the mob.

Anonymous said...

whether you were a conservative Republican or a raving Trotskyite

I hate to be diacritical here, but in modern usage that s/b and/or.

Emily said...

The amount of goodwill our nation has squandered since 9/11--mostly thanks to Bush admin. policies, to be fair--is somewhat staggering.

Thankfully, most regular folk around the world, at least the ones with whom I've talked, are still smart and compassionate enough to keep everyday citizens separate from the government officials who've been working so hard to piss everyone off.

Pete Gruett said...

I was a bit more cynical than most on 9/11. That night, when pretty much the whole congress stood on the steps of the capitol and sang "God Bless America" I knew immediately that, if things were going to change, it wouldn't be for the better.

Emily said...

But yeah, like Pete, I already had a solid feeling of dread for the future by the end of that day--and not in the "the terrorists are gonna get us!" sense, but more the "what the crap stupid thing are we about to do in response" sense.

Thomas Joseph said...

Emily: I thought the initial response was adequate, reasonable, and entirely justifiable. We were "in the black" until we went after/into Iraq.

Anonymous said...

the initial response was adequate, reasonable

It's all of the same piece. The operating principle in Afghanistan was not "neutralize the threat." It was "show the @$%#suckers who's boss," matching al Qaeda's production values with some big-ass, made-for-teevee explosions of our own. As Mark Danner lays out masterfully, Iraq was a natural extension of this mentality. "Because Afghanistan was not enough,” as Kissinger put it.

Thomas Joseph said...

It's all of the same piece. The operating principle in Afghanistan was not "neutralize the threat." It was "show the @$%#suckers who's boss," ...

So what do you think would have been the appropriate response? Definitely not sit on our hands, right? And yes, we needed to show those motherfuckers who was boss.