Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

Summary: Sorry, terrorists. 9/11 didn't change anything. The game is still our own, to win or to lose.


This article continues our remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. This article was written for the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

9/11 changed nothing.

Before you get up in arms about all the death and stress America experienced at the withered hands of Osama bin Laden, let me deconstruct that statement. Hang with me for a few minutes.

Terrorists want to be like a vindictive ex-spouse. They want to rip you from your nice home and force you to live in a roach-infested trailer park. They want to take all your money from you -- forever -- and find new ways to make your life miserable. They want you to suffer. They want to deny you access to your kids, and yet suck you dry of both spirit and joy. They want to knock you down several pegs and prove, not only to the world, but to you, yourself, that you're not the person you thought you were.

The 9/11 terrorists wanted to destroy America and all it stands for. They didn't.

Instead, Al Queda was a lot more like an annoying ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. Sure, they caused us some stress. It's as if, in a hissy-fit, they busted your windshield, refused to return your toothbrush, and made some crank calls to your boss. Annoying, but not devastating.

People died in the events of September 11. We should never forget what they and their families lost. It was a terrible, horrifying event.

But it did not break us.

September 11: Ten years afterSure, it set us back for half a year or so. Sometimes, break-ups or other difficult life events can have that effect, too. But we moved on. And sure, we're pretty scrod, financially, morally, and ethically -- and we have a pretty crappy reputation worldwide.

But terrorism can't take credit for that. Terrorism can't take credit for our poor economic condition. Terrorism can't take credit for the housing crisis. Terrorism can't even take credit for our high unemployment numbers.

With the exception of the devastating loss of the unfortunate loved ones who died as a result of the attacks, terrorism can't take credit for any fundamental change in American life.

While some Americans have had difficult lives these last years, some of us did okay. Speaking personally,  although I've gone through a couple of really rough patches, I've had a relatively decent life in this post-9/11 world. I've experienced positive growth, both personally and professionally. I got married to a wonderful woman. I feel privileged to be able to blog here on ZDNet. I am grateful for the good things in my life.

I'm not alone. Yes, many Americans have had it tough, but it's also true that millions and millions of Americans have had good lives these last ten years. Millions upon millions of Americans have had great lives these last ten years. That's despite Al Queda, despite Osama bin Laden, and even despite our own politicians.

America has done quite well these years, as well. Despite our economic troubles and the longest (and most ill-advised) war in American history, we still flourished. We saw the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the transformative nature of smartphones, the growth of broadband, and the instant, international connections made possible by the Internet.

Watch a movie about contemporary America from the year 2000 and another from 2011, and you'll see subtle, but powerful changes, many of them for the better.

Some might say that America is a shadow of its former self, but we're always a shadow of our former self. We're always slightly embarrassing. Heck, one of our most popular exports, loved the world over, is a  brown, carbonated beverage that has no redeeming reason for existing.

America is, to some degree, a silly nation.

We still argue over evolution, intelligent design, or the idea that some magical being waved his arms and created heaven and Earth. We still argue over whether or not people should be allowed to use the word "married" if both members of a couple have male or female genitalia. We still argue whether a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body if she gets pregnant.

We are a silly nation. We care more about who is on American Idol than we do about the contents of legislation that'll change our lives. More people know the names Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton than know the names Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayer (sigh, they're Supreme Court justices).

We are a silly nation. We created Facebook, and worse, love it so much that it thrived. We want to know about who's dating our ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends and whether or not the prom queen from our old high school has gotten fat yet (that bitch!). We care more about petty gossip than we do about learning the fundamentals of science or mathematics.

We are a silly nation. We invent wonderful toys like iPhones and iPads, but give up our manufacturing power to our biggest frenemies. Instead of pouring in sand at one end of a plant in Fremont, California and getting iPhones out at the other end (and employing thousands of Americans in the process), we send many of our manufacturing jobs to China, India, and anywhere else we can find laborers willing to work for less money than Americans need.

And yet, we are also an amazing nation. Despite all our flaws (and there are many), America is still the world's role model. Sure, whenever we do something profoundly stupid, we lose some credibility across the planet, but we also always inspire.

America has heart, it has spirit, it has inventiveness, it has drive, it has purpose, it has resiliency, it has soul.

Part of what makes America great is that we can be both a very silly nation and a wonderful one at the same time. We have the internal design flexibility to allow the stupidity of our politicians (and their wildly divided and vaguely irrational supporters) and, yet, at the very same time, keep on keepin' on.

Even though 9/11 shook us up, America is still here, it is still strong, it is still silly, and it is still inspirational.

Sorry, terrorists. 9/11 didn't change anything. The game is still our own, to win or to lose.


Read the rest of the 9/11 Diary series:

Also read:

During our 9/11 retrospective coverage, I invite you to post your thoughts and remembrances, but I also request you remain respectful and polite. This isn't just a story of politics. This is a story of real people, their families, and their loss. Courtesy is demanded at a time like this. Thanks!

Topics: Government US, CXO, Government


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • No

    I'm sorry, but your assertation is incorrect, pretty much in its entirety.

    Terrorism won on 9/11.

    Yes, America still exists. But we now live in a nation where over half the people ARE willing to trade liberty for security. We live in an America that has so far spent something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars for every dollar spent by the terrorists in the attacks, nearly bankrupting the nation. We have TSA agents looking at or groping our genitals so we can travel by plane.

    America now lives in fear.

    Sure, there have been companies, ideas, people that have succeeded in the past 10 years. But that goes without saying...unless America was literally wiped off the map, there are going to be success stories.

    But the average PERSON is worse off today than they were 10 years ago. We lost so much that day...not just in lives, but in the very principles that America was founded upon.

    We only win when we go back to our lives, regain the liberties we so quickly discarded in the name of protection.

    We must remain vigilent. We must stand strong. But most importantly of all, we must stand with the liberty and freedom we once had.

    Until that day returns (and in all honesty...freedoms given up are unlikely ever to be regained), the perpetrators of 9/11 have beaten us.
    • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

      When people"word used very lightly" do what they did on 9-11 did you expect everything to remain the same?? Japan bombed us,did everything remain the same then? If anything Us Americans got a dose of reality that we are untouchable. And i can say that i do not live in fear of terrorism nor have i changed the way i live nor has 1 million other fellow Americans.
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        @Stan57 You know, you're entirely right. You, and 1 million other americans were "unchanged" (which I also use lightly) by 9/11.

        What about the other 250 million of you?

        I know what you were trying to get at...but the simple FACT is that the average American has less freedom than we did 10 years ago. The American Government is on the brink of bankruptcy, and a big chunk of that massive debt is from spending a billion dollars to one to fight the responsible parties.

        I wasn't alive when Japan bombed us...but I know from history that the bombing of Pearl Harbor did not result in the rolling back of centuries of rights and freedoms that the American people enjoyed (although unfortunately the lives and freedoms of many asian americans were completely trashed by fear, which we all agree today was entirely wrong).

        And you can say you do not live in fear of terrorism...but by acceptance of the loss of rights and freedoms...things like the destruction of the 4th ammendment when daring to do something so heinus as wanting to board an airplane...you ARE living in fear. You accept the erosion of our liberty so you don't have to be afraid of flying. Well...that's living in fear of terrorism...that IS changing the way you live.

        Of course the world changed on 9/11...but victory over terrorism means not allowing terror to run our lives...to not let fear rule our decisions...our choices.

        The attacks of 9/11 succeed exactly because we accepted the change...that we needed to change. What do you think their goals were that day? They weren't stupid...they knew damn well that they weren't going to destroy America entirely...that America would "rebound". The goals (in my opinion) were to take away our freedoms, to make us fundamentally change who we are and what we believe, and to cost the western world an obscene amount of money.

        Well, on that scorecard, we lost liberty and freedom, we changed our beliefs, we changed our system of justice for anyone we would brand a terrorist, whether a terrorist or not, and we've spent trillions of dollars chasing camels throught he desert. We have given up liberty for temporary safety, and we haven't even achieved temporary safety.

        Seems like they won to me...and will continue to win until we go back to the country we were and the values and liberties we had.
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)


        The terrorists couldn't care less how free we feel. Terrorism isn't about making your target feel bad. It's about getting them to change policy (in this case, foreign policy). In that regard, the attacks of 9/11 utterly failed. If anything, the U.S. has doubled down on its foreign policy in regard to military presence in the Middle East and support for Israel.

        What Bin Laden was counting on was that the U.S. was a paper tiger, and would retreat if attacked. The exact opposite happened.
    • true, and false

      @samalie It's true that American citizens are subjected to indignities that would be reserved for criminals and prisoners of war in a previous decade, but terrorists did not do that. Cynical, power-mad opportunists did that, and a nation of cowardly imbeciles allowed it.
      • Shhhh .......


        You'll only anger the Right Wing .. I mean the Imbeciles, I mean ...

        They'll just trot out the "You're UNPATRIOTIC because you don't follow the President ...

        Oh, thats right, they don't say that anymore.
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        @bblackmoor@... No one is forcing you to stay, there are plenty of aircraft leaving the country everyday, boats, or cross the border by land.
    • There have always been Americans willing to trade liberty for security

      @samalie <br>That is really the premise of the Cold War national security state. But guess what? We're not holding official inquisitions to determine who is and is not a "loyal American" as they did in the 1940s and 50s. And by and large the criminal justice system works the way did before (even though I think there are those who think that Guantanamo Bay is a more appropriate model). Former Vice President Cheney was very much in favor of undoing 1970s restrictions on presidential authority, but for the most part, the consensus on the balance of power between the three branches of government remains as it was.<br><br>Mind you, there are a lot of political developments over the past 10 years I'd like to reverse, and eternal vigilence remains the price of liberty, but the USA is neither a totalitarian state, nor in any immediate danger of becoming one.<br><br>Edit: One thing I forgot to mention...<br><br>There has been *no* official effort (and no serious unofficial ones) to crack down on political dissent. Even antiwar protesters have to engage in disorderly conduct in order to get arrested (during WWI, they would have been arrested on charges of sedition, just for speaking against the war). There has been no effort (official or otherwise) of which I'm aware to impose political censorship, or to punish either the publication or posession of subversive literature. Nor has there been any attempt to lock people up simply for belonging to a suspect ethnic group (as was done in WWII).<br><br>There have been private efforts to get people fired for political advocacy, but that's merely the sort of "punish your enemies" persecution that activists of various sorts have attempted for years and has nothing to do with 9/11.<br><br>Reply to piousmonk:<br><br>If there have been efforts to crack down on political dissent, they have been remarkably ineffective. It is true that there have been those who have insinuated that public opposition to the Iraq War is treason, but that's merely dishonest political rhetoric, not a serious effort to crack down on dissent.

      Reply to adornoe:

      Not a thing wrong with me (in that regard, anyway). I've said before I was disinclined to follow anyone's party line or to censure others for failing to do so. Apparently, you didn't believe me.
      John L. Ries
      • Actually yes, there were inquisitions

        @John L. Ries

        If one is a follower of the Right Wing and a NEOCON they probably know about the formal inquisitions but are unaware the inquisitions were inquisitions.

        And informal inquisitions happened just about everywhere, but once again since the NEOCon is intellectually dishonest and believe just about anything in order to alleviate the suffering of cognitive dissonance, they are once again aware and unaware of these inquisitions.
      • Which inquisitions?


        Speaking as a long-time registered Republican, & someone that voted both times for President Bush, would you mind providing us some *evidence* of these "formal" inquisitions... since I know I have *no* knowledge whatsoever of them?
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        @John L. Ries

        "There has been *no* official effort (and no serious unofficial ones) to crack down on political dissent."

        Not to put on the tinfoil hat, but there's none that we know of. But we have seen the right wing claim treason by those who voiced disagreement with the war in Iraq. We've seen the telcos become extensions of Homeland Security. We've seen numerous people erroneously listed on "no fly"/terrorist watchlists. We've seen the Tea Party and veterans returning from Afganistan and Iraq labled as potential terror threats. We saw a scientist all but publicly accused by Homeland Security (which the media more than happily covered none stop) as the person behind the Anthrax attacks, only to see it pinned on yet a different scientist after his death. We've seen our government pass laws that allow a person to be served silent warrants, to be held without being charged and to be denied right to legal representation. We've seen reports describing thousands of abuses of these relaxed laws. We've seen Homeland Security marketing encouraging citizens to report others of suspicious activities.

        Whether or not those things you listed have taken place yet doesn't matter. Much of the framework to do so is in place. If the wrong people reach positions of power, these things could become reality.

        In short, our civil liberties exist to protect against such things from happening. If you remove those protections...
      • rmhesche: What is it with your idiotic

        hate rhetoric?<br><br>What about those "inquisitions" that you speak of?<br><br>It sounds to me that your radical hate rhetoric and imaginings of evil are a bigger problem for people in the U.S. than whatever the terrorists can do to us after 9/11. <br><br>So, forget about what you imagine and come out with real facts about what you think is "really happening" in the country.<br><br>Forget the stupid labels and come out with facts. Idiotic ramblings wont get you or anybody anywhere, except probably make people cautious when they're around you.

        While trying to brand others and demonize them, you actually end up indicting yourself as being more radical than those you wish to attack.
      • The only inquisitions I've seen...

        ...are the informal ones conducted by political activists to determine who is or is not a loyal member of one or the other of our major political parties. This is a long term trend and has nothing whatever to do with 9/11 or "national security".

        What we haven't seen are people being called before Congressional committees (or other like forums) and having their reputations trashed because someone thinks they *might* be disloyal. We haven't seen people barred from work in their chosen professions (other than maybe government work) because they *might* be sympathetic to the enemy.

        I don't think that people should *ever* be deprived of life, liberty (in the strict sense), property, or the privilege of earning an honest living, except by due process of law (and no, I don't think that nonjudicial officers should ever have the authority to proscribe or dissolve private organizations), but let's keep some perspective, shall we?
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        @John L. Ries Thank you, someone who is actually a student of history finally commenting with an eye to the big picture.
    • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

      @samalie - sadly, I have to agree. When I and every other American are now considered first guilty (of possibly being a terrorist) until proven innocent by TSA, instead of innocent until proven guilty, the terrorist have won.
      • Guilty until proven innocent?

        Really? While my bags are routinely searched and I've been searched myself at least once (no, I don't like it either), I have yet to be required to prove that I'm not a terrorist to TSA or anyone else.
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        @John L. Ries
        To many of us, the simple fact that we are required to submit to a virtual stripsearch or the FreedomFondle? is having to prove we are not terrorists in order to board a plane.

        Tell otherwise to the people who have been arrested and charged for standing up for their 4th ammendment rights in an airport.

        The fact you submit willingly, quite frankly, proves the point I've been trying to make here. You have given up essential liberty for the illusion of safety.
      • John L. Ries: What's wrong with you! You're beginning to make sense.

      • samalie: How would you feel if an attack did occur in an airplane

        or that airplane was used to perpetrate an attack against some other target?

        Would you be one the the first to accuse the government of not having done enough to protect the citizens and country against terrorism? Or would you be one of those that would look at 9/11 and any future attacks as acceptable and not worth being caused some form of discomfort?

        While I agree that we shouldn't sacrifice our freedoms and rights for a feeling of security, 9/11 was a wake-up call, and reminded us that, perhaps we do need to make some sacrifices for the cause of retaining our basic way of life.

        Even with the discomforts of such things as the TSA "groping", we still enjoy our rights and freedoms.
      • RE: Why 9/11 proved terrorism is a failed strategy (9/11 Diary)

        If somehow an air attack was successful, I would not blame the government for not doing enough. I would not blame the TSA, or the airline, or anybody else.

        I put the blame solely at the feet of the perpetrators.

        While not, nor ever "acceptable", I consider it inevitable. There is absolutely no way in hell we could possibly protect the USA from any terror attack from ever happening. It is not possible. Our country is too vast, too large, and too un-defendable from a "lone agent".

        Therefore, giving up ANY freedom that we have is, quite honestly, unacceptable to me. TSA "groping" is a direct violation of our rights and freedoms. It brings the illusion of safety...not any actual safety. Look at the people who have accidentially gotten blades through airport security. Plus, really, with exception to someone blowing up the plane as a whole, no passenger will ever let 9/11 happen again...anyone attempting to hijack a plane will be subdued (if not killed) by the passengers on board.

        9/11 was a wake up call...but we as individuals, we as a nation, now better informed, have a greater chance of thwarting terrorism than the TSA ever will.

        I will gladly sacrifice my life on an aircraft to prevent 9/11 from happening again. Sacrifice is fine, but in my personal opinion, the sacrifice willing to be made by a person is the choice of that person...I do not choose to have the 4th ammendment not apply in an airport, or any of the other examples I've stated here today.