The anniversary, as anniversaries inevitably do, comes again. The events themselves have now reached what used to be legal age. Twenty-one years ago planes exploded into towers and the Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania.
That day may be emblazoned in the memories of many of us, but now up to a quarter of the nation’s voting age population was not yet born or were mere toddlers or had not yet finished grade school when 9/11 happened. However, whatever you recall of that day, we all live with the consequences of decisions this country made in response to that terrorism.
Because of the events, we went to war and invaded Afghanistan and, bewilderingly, Iraq, but there were many other military actions in eighty countries in what was proclaimed the Global War on Terror. The costs have been steep. American lives have been lost, but we seldom think of the other deaths. A recent estimate suggests that 900,000 people have been killed and uncounted refugees created as a direct result of the war on terrorism. And of course, there were many other consequences—PTSD, sundered families, educations lost, addictions, and much more.
We don’t discuss much the monetary costs although a recent report states that in the last two decades we have spent more than $8 trillion to fight terrorism. “Patriots,” however, did not want to pay for it. They did not suggest that we increase our taxes to pay for what was to make us freer and safer. Instead, we reduced taxes for certain segments of the population, and of course, deficits increased. We decided that for our security, our children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren, born and unborn, should pony up the money. If you rail against our national deficits and debt, you should think about how successful the 9/11 terrorists were.
Our present military budget sucks up more than half the federal discretionary budget, and much of that is the result of our actions started in response to those attacks a generation ago. When politicians and pundits claim we don’t have money for needed infrastructure, healthcare improvements, education, childcare, and much else, think again to 9/11. Terrorists died on that day, but their actions live on.
Another immediate response to the September 2001 attacks was increased “security” in the nonfederal sector. This continues. We require identification or special procedures to enter places that we once entered without fanfare. For an ordinary business meeting in an ordinary office building this past year, I had to stop at a desk. One of the two men there verified I had an appointment, which meant that someone had to inform him of the meeting. He took and printed out my picture on one of those sticky badges. He called the office where I was going, and someone from upstairs had to come down to collect me since the building required a card to use the elevator. And after what was maybe a five-minute delay, I was in the meeting. I have never seen expense figures put on this and similar kinds of security, but the equipment, personnel, and time spent all impose costs. Perhaps that amount is small for any one transaction, but there must be at least hundreds of thousands, perhaps even tens of millions, of such encounters every day, at a total cost of…..???
Of course, all these actions that came in the wake of the Twin Towers may have been worth it if they have led to a safer and freer America. Perhaps some things have been done that achieve these goals, but we are not good at assessing our actions, even the ones we continue to do. Do you feel freer and safer? Does the world? Perhaps the 9/11 terrorists accomplished more than we realize.