If it had not been for our 'news' media, I would have given the anniversary of 9/11 barely a thought. Unfortunately, the wall-to-wall maudlin coverage made any kind of amnesia impossible. Don't get me wrong. I will always remember the date and what happened. It is one of the three dates in my life I will always remember what I was doing, where I was, and who was with me at the time. The other dates were JFK's assassination and the Challenger explosion. However, our reactions to the events politically, socially and individually are to my mind....excessive. Yes, I think excessive is exactly the word to describe the responses.
The year after I was working in an office and a young woman I worked with (young enough to have been my daughter) mentioned her fear, engendered and driven by 9/11 that her 3 year old daughter wouldn't have a chance to grow up but would be murdered by terrorists. Why was she so afraid? In this area the child had a better chance of dying in a traffic accident, a house fire, being hit by lightening, or in a flood or tornado than as a result of terrorism. Or by getting shot in a gang cross-fire. Others in the office expressed similar fears. I don't think any of them cared for my observation that the event and the responses to it marked an amazing lack of American backbone. That was putting my bewilderment and disgust rather baldly. However, it does reveal an inability to put the event into some kind of perspective and an inability to make reasonable assessments of risk.
Worse, our current federal government has encouraged this unreasoning attitude. In the name of security and the "War on Terror" we have seen our Constitution shredded, our executive branch deciding that the law is only advisory when it pertains to the executive branch while it is mandatory for everyone else. We have seen our President and his appointed officials and members of his party justify an unreasonable foreign policy, conduct a half-assed war that has cost more American lives that 9/11 itself, and drain our treasury of funds that could be put to much better use at home all in the name of security. I don't know about others but I DO NOT FEEL SAFER. In fact, I feel more threatened by those who claim to be protecting me. They can do anything by simply invoking 9/11 and we have let them get away with it. All we need to be cowed into unthinkingly acquiescing to more inroads on our freedom is a raised threat level or unsubstantiated stories of suspected terror plots.
Watching CNN today, I had an interesting epiphany on matters of free speech. Mainly, how much, as a history professor I knew used to say, it is honored in the breech than in the practice. On the one hand we have those who are protesting Columbia University's invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, President of Iran, to speak. I, for one, have no desire to hear him speak. I don't know what real power he wields in Iran or how much influence he really has with the religious leaders who seem to be the real architects of Iran's policies. I don't care that he is a 'holocaust denier' and thinks that Israel shouldn't exist. I don't think his opinion is particularly weighty. And I don't see any reason to get into a lather about his speaking to any audience.
We supposedly value free speech until of course it counters our deeply cherished opinions, beliefs or prejudices. Then all hell breaks loose. We have had episodes in our history when certain beliefs could not be published. The Alien and Sedition Acts of the late 18th century made it a crime to publish anything critical of the President and most officials of the federal government. The glaring exception was the Vice President, at the time one Thomas Jefferson who was on the outs with President Adams and most of his administration. In the South and many border states before 1860, any one who spoke or wrote against slavery risked their lives and in some cases lost those lives. During a large part of the 20th century the surest way to scuttle unpleasant ideas was to tar their proponents with the brush of 'Communism."
We have a long history of dealing with unpleasant people and ideas by innuendo, slur, insult. It is far easier, as so many of our so-called pundits have found, to use insult instead of intelligence, aggressive banter instead of argument, attack the person instead of the idea. If you don't like proposals for reforming medical care and its funding, all you have to do is raise the specter of 'socialized medicine.' And you don't even have to justify the label or present a coherent argument. If you don't like a foreign regime or leader all you have to do is charge that they support terrorism. The beauty of this tactic is you don't even have to specify the brand of terrorist or provide evidence. A terrorist, after all, is a terrorist, is a terrorist.