That great voice of contemplative thought, the NYT op-ed, published a really interesting essay yesterday by Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. Entitled "Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History", it posed that interesting question from a historical perpective. What caught my eye most of all was that, even though we are four and a half years past 9/11, we may be only read these sort of thoughts now. Here is the full essay in a non-subscription-only format:
Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility. Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.His last point is interesting. The terrorists would like the US and other free nations to fall into the belief that freedom is at risk. This is different that saying freedom is under attack, of course. But reacting as if it is at risk creates the real danger, Ellis argues:
It is completely understandable that those who lost loved ones on that date will carry emotional scars for the remainder of their lives. But it defies reason and experience to make Sept. 11 the defining influence on our foreign and domestic policy. History suggests that we have faced greater challenges and triumphed, and that overreaction is a greater danger than complacency.Of course, there is nothing as interesting as someone who agrees with something you have written before. In the fall of 2003, I was very surprised to find that the relative fear level of 9/11 was considered greater than in the Cold War, the latter end of which framed my youth. In March 2004, I thought about it again and did so again in October 2004.
Where do we stand now that we have learned that 9/11 will not be repeated annually, that we have seen great changes or perhaps only admissions as to the way we are watched and interogated when suspected, that we now know that giving people the right to vote will not ensure those people will vote for what you want? I don't mean this as a telling "gotcha" sort of comment so much as an invitation to ask yourself it is now acceptable to consider and perhaps reconsider given almost half a decade of subsequent history.