I know how people are going to react to this, and that sort of reaction is exactly why I rarely if ever voice my opinions on these sorts of matters at length... but occasionally I feel like I should say something, and this is one of those times. Call me unamerican or whatever you want; I tend to think of myself more as a human being than an American anyway, and if people were better at realizing that nationalities didn't change one's species I probably wouldn't be writing this.
People like to ask one another where they were during the attacks on September 11, 2001. I don't really remember the exact time very distinctly, but I was in Mrs. Blackstone's math class in 5th grade. At the time I was blissfully ignorant of any attacks; for that matter, I was blissfully ignorant that a world outside of America existed. I won't say that the nation at large shared my ignorance... a more accurate way of putting it might have been that they weren't ignorant of the rest of the world, so much as apathetic towards it. They couldn't hurt us, after all. We were America, a goddamn hyperpower!
And then some planes crashed into some buildings, and that all changed.
Before I proceed any further, I feel I should specify that I am not in any way attempting to trivialize the loss of life that occurred on 9/11. It was tragic, certainly, and I would never attempt to imply otherwise... however, I still feel that our response in the eight years since then may bear scrutiny.
One might ask themselves what changes really occurred between September 10, 2001, and September 12, 2001. Obviously, there were some economic... after all, it was the World TRADE Center that was hit... but the attacks wouldn't start doing serious damage to the economy for a couple years, and even then only indirectly. And, even more obvious, thousands of people throughout the country were numbly trying to make sense of the loss of a loved one who's death ultimately had no sense. But "thousands of people" is a surprisingly small group in relation to the population of The United States as a whole, and the largest change was that the aforementioned population was terrified and angry. Americans had been killed on their own land by foreigners; some idiots thought they could attack the Goddamn Hyperpower and get away with it, and we weren't going to let them!
This is a perfectly human response... if we were not compelled to strike back at those who harm us, the human race would never have made it out of the stone age. However, making perfectly human responses on an international level is something that should be done with a bit more caution. That lack of caution is ultimately where we started to go wrong.
I can't say that Afghanistan was the wrong nation to go in to... but the matter of HOW we went into Afghanistan is the issue, and it is a matter that has surprisingly little to do with 9/11, and everything in the world to do with Oil.
Make this note an interactive experience and go google "UNOCAL Trans-Afghan Pipeline". Go ahead. I'll wait.
Okay, I get the feeling you probably didn't, so let me enlighten you. The UNOCAL Corporation (which dissolved in 2005 but now operates as The Union Oil Company of California) had been planning to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to get to the Caspian Sea, a region with more oil and gas than Saudi Arabia. As late as 1998, Taliban Officials were in Texas negotiating with UNOCAL regarding construction, but in '99 they instead opted for a company from Argentina. UNOCAL, having already dumped a sizeable amount of money into surveying for the pipeline and courting the Taliban, had gone from being on the verge of becoming filthy rich, to at risk of becoming quite the opposite. John Maresca, UNOCAL's vice president, testified before congress that same year declaring that there would be no pipeline while the Taliban remained in power.
I won't make any claims regarding the convienience for UNOCAL that the founder of a terrorist organization which killed over 3,000 Americans happened to be in a nation with a government that was costing them a lot of money, primarily because I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist and anything I said on the matter would be much more difficult to cite sources for. But draw your own conclusions.
If our objective was to retaliate against the terrorist attacks, our target would have been Osama Bin Laden, founder and leader of the organization which perpetrated those attacks. The Taliban even offered to aid in acquiring Bin Laden (they really didn't have much choice in the matter, after all)... however, we declined, and instead of a concentrated effort to find a single man, we put only a token effort into finding that man, and put the bulk of our forces towards toppling a government. In the process, Bin Laden slipped through the cracks.
I suppose the point I am trying to make here is that Afghanistan was certainly about 9/11, but it was just as much about greed... and because of that greed, we went about it in the wrong manner, costing us the chance for justice the American people were promised.
Not an unjust war, necessarily, but certainly not a just one, and one that might have been significantly less bloody if the American people had been thinking a little clearer after the attacks.
And theeen there's Iraq.
I certainly hope that by this point no one actually seriously believes that Saddam was a threat to the American people. There were no WMDs, Saddam had no connection to 9/11, and Al-Quaeda was not in Iraq until they realized it was a great spot to go if you wanted to shoot Americans. Do a little independant research, and prove me wrong (protip: FOX is an unreliable source). I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of why we went into Iraq, beyond that they most certainly had nothing to do with preventing another 9/11, no matter how many times imagery of the Twin Towers was evoked while trying to build support for the war.
And how have things gone since then? Pretty damn poorly, by any logical standards. People like to say that we're "fighting them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here". That's a wonderful idea, unless you happen to spend more than ten seconds thinking about it. Outside of America, the world's opinion tends to be that the Iraq War was an incredibly idiotic clusterfuck that was started entirely because Americans love to see explosions. This is reason for Europeans to shake their heads and go back to whatever it is Europeans do, but for the Iraqis it was something much graver.... all those pretty explosions we Americans love to see were happening on top of Iraqis who had family members. Remember what I said about perfectly human reactions? It's no coincidence that Al-Quaeda has grown significantly in size since we invaded, or that a number of other organizations have declared Jihad on America.
Fighting them over there is all well and good, but being over there has made "them" grow in number exponentially. I'd much rather fight my neighbor when he tries to break into my house, than go next door and try to take on his entire family.
But I suppose all of this is ultimately meaningless in the face of a single question: is America safer now than it was when then? That's a harder question to answer, certainly... but as best I figure, the answer is "only a little". We're more vigilant, for sure... but America was plenty safe for a decade prior to those attacks, when we weren't particularly vigilant, and there were just as many groups angry at us (even if those groups were smaller). I think the issue then becomes the fact that people have different definitions of safe.
There is a not-insignificant portion of American populace who believes that the terrorists would destroy America if they had the chance. That's certainly true, but these people also believe that the terrorists ever WOULD have the chance. America is a massive place, and there aren't enough planes in the world to destroy it. 9/11 is often portrayed as a gargantuan attack... and in one way, yes. That's true. 3000+ people is a sizeable number, and to cause that many deaths is a terrible crime. But a little perspective might be useful... keep in mind that more people died of car accidents in September and October of 2001 than died in the attacks, and combining both of those numbers still gives you a portion of the population of the US so low that I'm too incompetent at scientific notation to read it. From a human perspective, it's terrible, but from a mathematical one, it's a papercut. An attack ten times as terrible would still be a papercut, and one ten times as terrible as that would be, too.
At the end of the day, America is still ultimately the most powerful nation in the world, and therefore still a goddamn hyperpower. Russia is scrambling to regain it's status during the cold war, and China and India are looking to join the fun as well, but ultimately it would be impossible to destroy America without destroying everyone else as well, and I'm pretty sure that's contrary to Al-Qaeda's stated goal of a reunited Caliphate.
In other words, we weren't looking for safety so much as protection from papercuts, and we got it... in this new atmosphere of paranoia, the possibility of a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 is negligible. However, our efforts to acquire that protection from papercuts have made us innumerable enemies in the Middle East, as well as made it much easier to manipulate us to serve the interests of businesses, all in the name of "safety".
Slightly more than 3,000 human beings died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. We are regularly told, reasonably so, to "Never Forget".
At least 40,000 human being have died as a result of the War in Afghanistan, a war that was as much about setting up a pipeline as it was avenging those killed in the attacks.
At least 1,033,000 human beings have died as a result of the Iraq War, a war launched under false pretenses that would never have held water prior to the attacks.
I like to think it might be wise to Never Forget those numbers, either.