The legacy of 9/11

Heather Nichols-Haining

When Senator McCain claimed that the lesson of Sept. 11 is the need to serve our great nation, I wanted to barf. The idea that America is once again to be manipulated by the emotional intensity left by the attacks on the twin towers is frustrating at best, infuriating at worst.

America is still healing from the wound left by Sept. 11 and you can bet politicians will continue to manipulate the event so the lessons will be whatever they need us to believe they are.

During the last elections, Sept. 11 was on everyone’s mind. National security and terrorism were issues that deserved top priority and both Kerry and Bush’s campaigns were run with this in mind.

Now the fact that we’re at war with Iraq, could potentially be going to war with Iran, and are engaged in an open-ended “war on terror” is pretty low the list of what American’s care about this election.

Yet the legacy left by the Sept. 11 attacks will be with Americans for years to come. The fear instilled by the attacks and encouraged by the government still substantially effects our lives today. Pro-McCain Web sites are quick to point out that Obama’s lack of initiative will inevitably lead to more terrorist attacks and that Sept. 11 taught him nothing. This is like saying, “America, we are in constant danger of attack. This means going to war with Iran and voting for McCain are the right things to do.”

Bush announced to the nation, “We live in a dangerous world, and we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: That to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again.” This is a clear message to the nation that the only way to protect ourselves is to be on the offense. It is also suggesting that the lesson of Sept. 11 is one of war. Didn’t we learn something more? Something about unity or maybe heroes? Or at the very least, didn’t we learn that we’re not dealing with national security in the conventional sense. Terrorism is a whole new kind of threat that can’t be treated in the way we’re used to understanding threats. We can’t go to war with terrorism. Terrorism is not a nation. Iraq is not terrorism.

Or maybe we should have learned about how susceptible we are to giving up the liberties we claim we’re spreading throughout the world. The Homeland Security Act was bad enough when it first came out. With provisions that suspended the habeas corpus in matters of “national security” the Act is a symbol of just how easily Americans were willing to give up their rights.

But this is not just a thing of the past. This year, Bush extended the state of National Emergency in which we have been since Sept. 14, 2001. This means Bush has the power to suspend or modify the constitution in light of the “immediate terrorist threat.”

As of September 12, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has deemed the terrorist threat level to be a yellow, which means, “elevated or significant risk of terrorist attack,” unless you are flying on a domestic flight, in which case the risk is orange, or high.

This brings me to the legacy that I find hardest to grapple with. America is riddled with a severe mistrust of our government. This is easy to see in our election and our strong desire to elect a leader that is “like us.” Both Obama and McCain have acknowledged the distrust of the government, and both are playing to be the more “honest and trustworthy” leader.

I am sick of being manipulated. I am sick of my fears and emotions being a tool of the government. I am sick of distrusting the government. When are we allowed to stop looking for lessons in Sept. 11, and to start looking for lessons in the post Sept. 11 world? Lessons such as “Don’t let the government make all the calls. Use your head. Think policies through before supporting them. Don’t let fear be the victor. Don’t be manipulated so easily. War will not make us more secure.”

I can only hope our new president will not be so quick to manipulate America’s fear and need for security. But I am distrustful.