What a post 9/11 world looks like
by Eric Stroo
The year that I started kindergarten was the same year that Mikhail Gorbachev signed over control of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal to the new country of Russia, the last act of the USSR. A few weeks earlier, William Jefferson Clinton beat an incumbent President Bush in an overwhelming victory to be the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to hold the Presidency. Change was everywhere.
Clinton enacted policies that helped foster the burgeoning technology industry; the world was rapidly becoming smaller and in my little house in the south of Seattle (near the Boeing and Microsoft campuses) I was in the epicenter of it. I grew up with computers, the internet, and the privileges of a technocratic suburban lifestyle. The possibilities were endless. The world was, in my estimation, relatively peaceful and prosperity was everywhere.
We all, as a nation, grew complacent. We largely ignored the strife outside of the bubble we created, and except for the clusterfuck with Aidid in Somalia, things like the Rwandan genocide and the Taliban’s increasing brutality in Afghanistan went largely unnoticed or underreported. Even the intervention in Kosovo was reduced to night-vision views of NATO bombing salvos. Instead, we began to obsess ourselves with Survivor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
The 2000 Presidential Election had little to do with foreign policy. Little did we know that foreign policy would be the key issue the next President would have to face. Instead we talked about tax relief and how to spend our budgetary surplus. After one of the most controversial and close elections in U.S. history, President George W. Bush was sworn in on the vows of compassionate conservatism.
By 2001, I had started my first year of high school. I had no real ambitions or dreams, just a head full of punk music and a penchant for rebellions. Our family had just moved to a new town in Southern Oregon.
It was on the second day of my freshman year that I woke up to my mom screaming, “Eric wake up! We are under attack!”
Thinking that the little condo we were living in until our house was built was in some sort of physical danger, I sprang out of bed. As I got up, my mom was planted firmly to the television as they showed repeats of a second plane smashing into the World Trade Center. I had never seen anything like it. I watched for about an hour, foregoing the shower and breakfast that was usually crucial to my morning routine.
I still remember the walk to school that day. It was eerily quiet; hardly any cars were on the street. The nation was collectively glued to their television sets. We spent the whole school day transfixed by images of planes falling out of the sky. From the Pentagon, both the WTC towers, a field in Pennsylvania, and all of the emergency diversions to clear US airspace, it was clear that what we were watching was now going to play a large role in all of our lives.
I remember watching the same night-vision television shots of bombs that I saw in Kosovo, but this time they were in Afghanistan and for retaliation. It seemed more real this time than it did in Kosovo.
I started to understand the global political realities of action and reaction. I was filled with two conflicting emotions. Yes, I wanted to get the bastards who killed so many of my countrymen. I also was disgusted with the world of international relations. Morality and long-term planning played no role. If they did, we would have listened to Charlie Wilson and built up the country of Afghanistan. Instead we used it as a theatre to beat the Soviets and left it in the hands of madmen.
The world was too big, at the time, to think of the consequences of arming the Mujahedeen. While there is no justification for killing thousands of innocents, there is also no justification for using a country as a pawn of war without thinking of the future we are creating. George Marshall knew after World War II that we could lead and shape the world with some amount of dignity. I had hoped that we would do the same in Afghanistan. Instead, we pulled most of our troops out and invaded Iraq.
I started protesting the war because it did not make sense. Our enemy was Al Qaeda and the Taliban, not Saddam Hussein. We had a charge to rebuild Afghanistan into a stable country, not destroy Iraq. We cut taxes, we got into two wars that we could never build our way out of. We surged; we turned the tide against the insurgency, but we did nothing to stop the underlying causes of terrorism.
Ultimately, what September 11th means to me is a lost cause for peace. We saw the ugly side of the globalized world after a decade of growth. To me, the path to create a globalized and more peaceful world out of the ashes of 9/11 was the best way to turn a tragedy into the linchpin for change. Instead, we doubled down on the ethos of action/reaction and the old games of power politics to protect US interests. Maybe human history, from Sun Tzu to Cardinal Richelieu and all the way through Kissinger and Kennan correctly predicts that our lesser nature will prevail in the anarchy of international relations. I can’t stop wishing, though, that in a world of promise, opportunity and global connectivity, maybe we can chose cooperation over conflict.