The troubles we've seen

9/11 thoughts from Mark Crispin Miller, David Thomson, Richard Stallman and more.

By Salon Staff

Published September 11, 2002 11:23PM (EDT)

9/11 changed everything? Or 9/11 changed nothing? Everyone has an opinion. Here are a few assembled by Salon's staff.

David Thomson, film critic and author of "A Biographical Dictionary of Film," "Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles" and "In Nevada":

Twenty-five very bad things that have happened to us:

1. The institution known as slavery.
2. The excessive use of social engineering in the first 50 years of the USSR.
3. The career of Adolf Hitler.
4. The more or less continual state of famine in many parts of Africa.
5. HIV.
6. The ministrations of the Roman Catholic Church.
7. Disneyfication.
8. Being in Hiroshima or Nagasaki or Dresden on the wrong mornings so that an example might be made.
9. The first day on the Somme, 1916.
10. The other days there.
11. The prolonged events in Indo-China that served to delay the formation of a single, independent Vietnamese state.
12. The Black Death.
13. Photography in all its forms.
14. The Spanish Inquisition.
15. The Spanish Civil War.
16. The Spanish Flu.
17. The Dark Ages.
18. Global warming.
19. Oct. 31 1971: Tidal wave at Orissa, east India, kills 15,000.
20. Other events like those of No. 19 that we have forgotten or never heard of.
21. The various attempts to preserve order in China before 1949.
22. And after 1949.
23. The collective failure of U.S. intelligence before Sept. 11, 2001.
24. The events of Sept. 11, 2001.
25. The ball going through Billy Buckner's legs.

So, get a grip, New York, and make up your mind whether you're one tough city, or just the center of attention.

Janice Crouse, executive director, Beverly LaHaye Institute in Washington, and Bush administration delegate to the U.N. Children's Summit:

9/11 profoundly changed people's attitudes toward America and made us much more patriotic, much more willing to look foolish in terms of getting teary-eyed when we hear "God Bless America" and in doing the kinds of things that patriotic Americans typically do. On the other hand, I think in a strange kind of way it made us more blasi. We looked terror in the face and said, yes, it was a tragic event, but tragic events happen and there's nothing we can do and life goes on. We've continued on in our self-centeredness and we have not really altered our basic priorities and values in any kind of significant way.

We are superficially spiritual, but Barna Research reports that church attendance and other religious observances are not significantly changed. The bottom line is that while we say that we are more spiritual and we say it has affected us very deeply, it does not work itself out in our lifestyle choices and our values.

I expected us to be much more outraged and to overwhelmingly say this will not stand, and I see us backing away from a willingness to endure personal discomfort or inconveniences in terms of airport searches, being willing to say, "Yes, we must profile," and in terms of a commitment to military action.

Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media ecology, New York University Department of Culture and Communication:

Just after 9/11, I was one of those who thought, and said out loud, that the catastrophe might knock some sense into the gibbering "culture" of the U.S. media. Now there would be no more prime-time seminars about the likely cruising style of Gary Condit, no more shark watches, and quite a lot more coverage of, and talk about, the wider world. (The term "Afghanistan" had long been used inside the TV news biz as a handy term for all those faraway and overcomplicated stories that the advertisers didn't want to see.) And I believed that there would be a lot less dumbbell irony, a lot less potty comedy, and a lot less homicidal stand-up from the right. In short, I thought that Adam Sandler was all through, and that Ann Coulter would soon be forgotten, if not gone, and that the news would finally try to tell us some things that a free and democratic people needs to know.

Boy, was I wrong. Everwhere you look, Ann Coulter's up there on her broomstick, cracking manic jokes about mass murder, and Adam Sandler's said to be involved in seven movies soon to flood the multiplexes. Now I am old and wise enough to know that such bad acts are always with us, so I'm only disappointed -- and, on cool reflection, not surprised -- that there isn't more stuff out there like "The Simpsons," "The Sopranos," "Lovely & Amazing" or Wilco. On the other hand, I find that I am absolutely flabbergasted at the many jumbo helpings of outright crapola that our "free press" has been laying out for us day after day since 9/11. While foreign journalists routinely tell their readers and/or viewers what's going on -- inside Afghanistan, Iraq, D.C. and all throughout this land of our -- our journalists don't tell us anything.

They haven't bothered to report, for instance, that the war against Iraq has already begun. Last week the U.S. and U.K. together hit the largest air-defense installation in western Iraq -- a mission that involved 100 jets. At the same time, "we" began the largest military buildup in that region since the start of Operation Desert Shield 12 years ago. Neither story was reported by a single mainstream news source in this country. "Despite the assurances of President George Bush and Tony Blair that 'no decisions' had been made on how to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, compelling evidence has emerged in the past week that the U.S. has begun a military build-up not seen since the last Gulf war," reported the Observer, which, along with the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and, in Canada, the National Post, among other foreign press outlets, has duly covered what should be big news, but isn't news at all, in these United States, whose soldiers -- and civilians -- are the ones who stand to suffer once this war begins....

What has happened to the press in the United States? Certainly it wasn't anything to brag about 10, 15, 20 years ago, but now its irresponsibility is simply staggering. Why? A proper answer to that question has to be complex, entailing many factors -- corporate concentration; radical deregulation under Reagan, Bush and Clinton; TV's touchy-feely influence; the laziness and (yes) conservatism of a corporate press corps grossly overpaid; the fervent, brilliant rightist propaganda drive against "the liberal media"; and so on. While all such factors surely have a lot do with it, however, 9/11 clearly made a very sudden difference, turning a bad situation even worse.

Although the press was always marvellously soft on Bush -- revelling in his ignorance, saying not a word about his many scandals past, approving his bald theft of the election -- after 9/11 such mere protectiveness mutated swiftly into a demented caesarism, such as one would once have found among the Soviets, or as one finds today in places like Zimbabwe, North Korea, Cuba (and Iraq) ... Such rapturous delusion was a sign of the horrific times just after 9/11, and therefore would have been forgivable as a mere human failing -- if the reporters had just knocked it off once everyone recovered, more or less, from that first shock.

The fact that they did not, but kept on treating this Bush as a god -- even after he began descending in the polls, and notwithstanding the abundant evidence that he was not at all divine but barely human -- makes it quite clear that the press was transformed big-time by the shock of 9/11. Although the evidence of our own senses tells us otherwise -- after all, he's right there on TV -- the press accounts routinely fix his grammar (he said "gooder" several times at one recent event, but that weird goof was not in any transcript), and sometimes even call him "a six-footer," which is very clearly not the case. Such frank cosmetic touches are, to put it mildly, un-American, more reminiscent of the cult of Stalin than of anything in U.S. journalistic history.

And yet such frank improvements of the president's own voice and person are not half as troubling as the journalists' refusal to stay with those major stories that pertain directly to the ugly fix that we are in today: Dick Cheney's criminal involvement in the arming of Iraq (against which brutal nation he now urges us to war); John Ashcroft's kid-gloves treatment of the robber barons at Enron -- and that firm's many links to the administration (a scandal from which Gulf War II might help distract the rest of us); the abject failure of the "war on terrorism," as bin Laden walks (or sits) at liberty, along with most of the al-Qaida leadership (a big distraction would help there); and, speaking of the bombing of Afghanistan, the ruinous effect of that impulsive move on our attempts to nab the terrorists...

And then there's 9/11 itself -- the day that knocked the U.S. press clean out of its collective mind, and into full-time propaganda mode for this war-hungry president. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate that day's disastrous impact on the pundits and reporters than their mawkish exploitation of this anniversary. As they repackage the catastrophe as tearful patriotic superspectacle, the journalists persist in not reporting any aspect of the story that might somehow spoil the solemn mood of awesome ceremonial that both the White House and the media's parent companies have planned for us. And so George W. Bush will come and flex his gravitas before the cameras, with certain "heroes of 9/11" at his side -- and most of those Americans who watch won't even know, or won't recall, that this same president, abetted by Dick Cheney, has done everything he can to thwart a full inquiry into how and why that worst of crimes occurred.

Such obstruction is, at best, completely indefensible, since it prevents our grasping what occurred, and how we might best keep such things from happening again. At worst, it indicates that Bush and Cheney must be hiding something -- something that we have the right to know. In any case, their interference ought to be sufficient grounds for their immediate impeachment; and yet our journalists have been so dazed by 9/11 that they have failed to call for a commission looking into it -- an investigative body of the sort that we have had before, and that the government of any normal country would have organized at once. Overeager, even now, to help prop up this failing president (and, of course, to keep their ratings high), they display no interest in enlightening us, but are intent on dunking all of us in an immense "emotional bath" (a phrase Tom Brokaw used not long ago, approvingly). They seem to think that such submersion is a patriotic act -- but nothing could be further from the truth.

Jaron Lanier, computer scientist, musician and author who coined the term "virtual reality":

I think we've crossed an inevitable threshold. A lot of people had an intuition before 9/11 that said small numbers of people can do great harm because of tech advancement. This requires an adjustment but we haven't decided which way to go.

Were heading in one of two directions. We either head toward a society like that of the Dutch, who, by living behind dikes, recognize that they're vulnerable to attack. There, the response has been to create a society with zero privacy -- where you see people naked in their window -- but a society that's also tolerant and industrious. That's one formula, which is the one I've come to believe is the desirable one, even though it requires dramatic changes in the way we view privacy and other seeming entitlements.

The other direction is toward centralized control -- the panopticon sort of thing, which is what the government is favoring. And I think, so far, what we're choosing is different in different parts of the country. I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area right now and I don't see much change. But New York is vastly different. When I'm in New York, I always greet and thank police on duty because they're in harm's way for me. It's a closer-knit but less private existence.

When I think of the police in Los Angeles, where I got in trouble for greeting them, or in San Francisco, I've noticed that it's different. The police are more hostile. Those two experiences in New York and California reflect the changes I was talking about. If police and the public actually like and understand each other and have a rapport, that connection can make people more secure. We've seen that within New York City, but I don't think we see it elsewhere.

One thing that hasn't changed, which stuns me and makes me very angry, is that this should have been an opportunity to fund research and development -- to make progress on new forms of transportation and energy. It's a great, great shame that it hasn't been treated that way, because fundamentally, this oil thing is limited. In the grand scheme of people and energy, whatever happens in Iraq is only a tactical aside.

Russell Morse, 21-year-old staff writer at Youth Outlook and a student at San Francisco State University:

A year ago, I was ready to fight. If that meant going away to war, I was down. If it meant carrying a banner and burning an effigy of G.W. Bush, that was cool, too. I just wanted to belong to something, believe in something, anything.

I wrote a piece for Salon in which I detailed my readiness to wave a flag, put on a uniform, turn a blind eye to a blind war, just so I could stop being apathetic. I believed that there were many other young people just like me, eager to be a part of a movement similar to those that defined the generations that came before us.

All through my teens I had been hungry for some kind of national youth movement, and all I got was school shootings. In the morning hours of Sept. 12, I saw promise: I saw an end to this plague of teenage apathy. I saw patriotism. I saw young people gladly going off to fight. I even saw a new campus anti-war movement.

But then patriotism got played out. The stars and stripes became the Razor Scooter of 2001 -- it went from mandatory accessory of the young and free to garage sale fare in the click of a remote. The attacks were reduced to mere metaphor fodder for hip-hop lyrics. Even those young people who stood up to assume the role of anti-hero faded. John Walker copped a plea. Charlie Bishop's mom blamed her son's suicidal protest action on acne medication. And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict trumped America's War on Terrorism as the chic campus movement. "Free Palestine" replaced "Stop The War" as must-have Berkeley backpack sticker. And the brief, uneasy "truce" between young people and the police collapsed. The only waves the cops get now are one-fingered.

The focus of my 9/11 response piece was the idea that young men like me were ready to go to war. But my foresight was embarrassingly flawed. A friend of mine went AWOL from the Navy the day after 9/11, fearing he would be sent off to fight. In a moment too ironic to be dubbed ironic, he told me, "Go to war? I didn't sign up for that." So now the Army is giving away promotional first-person shooter video games as a recruitment tool. And starting this school year, high schools will be required to give up names, ages and addresses of all male students to the Selective Service in case of a draft. If the schools don't comply, they're faced with losing federal funding.

Apparently, kids didn't run out to register in the patriotic drunk of September. And they sure haven't done it in the eleven-month hangover since then. Meanwhile, my enthusiasm for a political movement has faded. I just wanna hear stories now, not rhetoric. Patriot, yes. War hawk, no. I thought I had something to care about after 911. Joining the anti-war movement. Join the army, whatever -- something bigger. Anything bigger. It looks now as if that something bigger is spiritual. Every week, I meet another young person seeking a spiritual answer to what I thought was a political question. Prayer and reflection has trumped sign and rifle toting.

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement and responsible for launching the development that led to the GNU/Linux operating system:

On Sept. 11, I was in Washington for a panel in Crystal City, where I was supposed to speak that afternoon about the censorship threat of the proposed Hague treaty. Before I set out, another panel participant phoned me, saying the meeting had been canceled due to an attack on the Pentagon nearby. The government had told its workers to go home, and shut down the subway so they couldn't.

I walked to the EPIC office, and there the real danger dawned on me. Our freedom was the next target! Bush and the FBI would seize this excuse to advance their patient plans for surveillance and arbitrary rule. Marc Rotenberg and I began writing an Op-Ed piece, warning Americans to resist attacking their own civil liberties if Osama bin Laden were out of reach. But no newspaper would publish it.

Events justified our fears. When our unelected president imprisoned people without trial, he abolished the most basic of legal rights. A few judges had the courage to reject this tyranny, but appeals courts reversed them. Osama bin Laden might wish to destroy America, but constrained as he is to acting in secret, he cannot do it. Bush may really do it. Americans, if you love your country, don't be distracted from the enemy within!

Dr. James J. Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute:

When I went over and spoke to the Arab League, I wanted them to know, and it was the same point I made in the weeks that followed Sept. 11, it was our country that was attacked. It was our people who died. It was Arab Americans who were part of the rescue effort. I have my own weekly television show, live to the Middle East every Friday, and my guests this week are a number of Arab American police officers in New York and firemen in Virginia to talk about being part of the rescue effort. This was as much a tragedy for us as anybody else in America. And that's how we will view it.

[Television producers] asked me if I wanted to fly up to New York on the 11th and I said no, I'm not going to fly on the 11th. I couldn't go into an airport on that day. Not because I'm afraid, but just because it does not seem right to me. In that sense I think I'm reacting like a lot of other people are going to react. The double problem, if there was any double problem for us, was that as we were watching the attack, as we were being traumatized by it, and hurt by it like everybody else, I got a death threat. And they kept coming so I had to be looking over my shoulder while I was watching the television. But the guy who threatened my life and threatened to kill me and my family on the 12th just got sentenced to a prison term in Boston last week. And that's the third part of the story for me; we were protected. And so it was a time of very complex emotions, it was kind of a roller coaster if you will. That sense of feeling vulnerable in a number of different ways, and at the same time feeling protected. That will be with us for a long time.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference of presidents of major american jewish organizations:

Much has changed. The way we view the world, the rules by which we judge events, the sense of vulnerability in our country, the priorities that the war on terrorism must take. It also reminded all of us what's really important in life and makes us reconsider our priorities. For Jews, like all Americans, it had a broad impact, [but] because of the high toll of Jews who were killed and the nature of the enemy and their primary target, there's a specific added dimension. There's absolutely no doubt that it has brought America and Israel closer together. It has made many Americans understand what Israel has been dealing with all these days.

Lucy Kaplansky, a folk singer in Greenwhich Village:

I think for most of us, people who were not directly affected by the attacks and didn't lose a loved one, things have largely gotten back to normal. In the first couple months everybody was not only incredibly sad but scared. I know I was really scared. Like, this is going to happen again and I better watch out. And I was watching people on the subway wondering, "Is he a terrorist?" But I have to say after a few months it started to feel like things were back to normal. One of the things that was so palpable right after the attacks was the incredible sense of community that came up in the city. People just felt like they were connected with each other. You could just see it in each others' eyes. People were so helpful and kind. And now it's just sort of back to, we're all just kind of New Yorkers. Back to normal. It is a shame that sense of community got put away. But I think that's human nature. I don't know that it could have really persisted in our normal world. I've never experienced anything like that. Everybody just felt a bond and I wish that could have stayed with us.

I've lived in New York City for 24 years. The first few years I was here it was very much a love/hate relationship. I was very poor. I was living in the East Village, which back then was no fun, lots of drug dealers. And I thought, what am I doing here? But then I met my husband in 1985 and I never ever thought about leaving after that. And at this point it is a love affair. I just love this city so much. And I think I love it even more after the attacks. I was scared, scared that I'd get killed in an attack. But I think I just really felt that much more connected and proud to be a New Yorker.

Salon Staff

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