Last Monday marked a grim anniversary. Twenty-two years earlier nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil in American history.
The events of September 11, 2001, changed the course of U.S. history, marking the beginning of a new era for the nation—one defined by widespread mistrust, military escalation, and government overreach.
To begin: OptOut acknowledges the victims of the attacks and their families, the first responders, many of whom have faced health complications resulting from their heroism and who have had an uphill battle in Washington to get the help they need. Their bravery in the face of the inhumanity of the attacks put American resiliency on display for the world. The nation's failure to repay that debt reveals the cruelty of neoliberalism.
OptOut would also like to acknowledge the soldiers and innocent human beings who subsequently lost their lives in ill-conceived military interventions overseas.
For more stories related to 9/11, check out these headlines:
- “The Legacies of 9/11” - The American Prospect
- “September 11, 22nd Anniversary” - The Nation
- “Washington Used 9/11 as an Excuse to Unleash a Campaign of Global Devastation” - Jacobin
- “Ron, Casey DeSantis visit 9/11 Memorial, connect attacks to immigration policies” - The Florida Phoenix
- “Why I Criticize 9/11 Conspiracies” - CounterPunch
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For this newsletter, we will examine the impact of that infamous and terrible day on our ability as a nation to respond to crisis.
The lessons of 9/11 and the War on Terror it sparked are many. But for many Americans, top of mind are 1) to maintain a healthy skepticism toward official narratives—particularly in times of war, 2) to jealously guard civil liberties amid calls for greater security, and 3) to think long-term when it comes to policy, especially foreign policy. As time has gone on, however, and the country has more distance from the attacks, these lessons have become increasingly misapplied.
Today, the U.S. faces another crisis that has fueled catastrophic loss of life, and the natural immune response built up by the War on Terror era, which saw two ill-conceived nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the creation of a sweeping surveillance state, is misfiring and cannibalistic.
Hospitalizations and deaths around the country have once again been rising due to a new variant of COVID-19. All told, the virus has killed more than a million Americans and left millions more suffering long-term. And yet, the country has not made any substantial structural changes that could enable the population to live with the virus humanely—namely indoor air quality rules, paid leave, and national health care.
There is no serious dialogue about these necessary reforms either. Such discussions have been drowned out by an increasingly conspiratorial rehashing of whether early interventions that saved lives went too far. The politicization of the pandemic has been driven by dark money groups looking to undermine public health efforts on behalf of the business interests that fund them as well as conspiracy theorists building their audiences. Those actors have had a deep vein of paranoia ready to exploit—and exploit it they have, turning regular people against government and teachers unions.
Claims that pandemic mitigations are creeping authoritarianism have been commonplace on the political right and in conspiracy circles for years now. Anti-vaxxer Alex Berenson, for example, who has suggested that COVID vaccines are responsible for mass death, used the anniversary of 9/11 to make a cryptic point:
“This 9/11 please remember: even when the threat is real, fear and overreaction make for terrible policies, and civil liberties tossed aside in a panic cannot be easily recovered,” he tweeted. “For what it's worth I was too young (even at 28) to understand this in 2001, but I sure do now.”
Appeals to fears of pandemic-facilitated authoritarianism have radicalized people and whipped them into a frenzy–particularly on the political right. At a recent ReAwaken America event in Las Vegas, one speaker called to hang Dr. Anthony Fauci. The New Republic had the story.
While there are certainly valid concerns about privacy and data collection that arose with the pandemic, at the end of the day, the COVID response has never been the War on Terror. Far from an overreaction, the government response to the public health crisis, which at its height was overwhelming hospitals and killing more Americans daily than died in the attacks of 9/11, was rather laissez-faire. Unlike countries like New Zealand and Australia, which implement zero COVID protocols, there was no countrywide lockdown or meaningful effort to eliminate the virus at the national level early on. The most stringent federal mitigation measures included a mask requirement for travel, an eviction moratorium, and a vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses. More importantly, the U.S. has made few—if any—long-term structural changes in response to the crisis.
There has simply been no appetite for big moves in Washington. When former White House spokesperson Jenn Psaki was asked point blank why the Biden administration wasn’t sending out free COVID tests to Americans in December 2021, she mocked the idea. Public pressure resulting from the incident would force the administration to set up a program to send out tests through the U.S. Postal Service.
If the lesson of terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and subsequent U.S. response is that skepticism is often warranted toward official narratives, the lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the exercise of governmental power is sometimes necessary and justified. It is hard to imagine any situation in which government action would be more warranted than a deadly pandemic with an airborne pathogen killing thousands of Americans every week. If such a crisis does not rise to that level, it is hard to imagine any that would—and for opponents of public health efforts, who include some of the biggest business interests and antigovernment voices in the country, that is the point.
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