James Carroll reaches for the transcendent in his reflections on 9/11 while an unsigned editorial in the New York Times argues that we have compounded the tragedy of 9/11 through our government's failure to ask for the sacrifices that Americans were ready to make after the World Trade Center fell. All of us want to find meaning in the events of 9/11.
To me, the meaning of 9/11 lies in its inauguration of a era of fear. Al Qaeda's attack on American icons provoked fear on 9/11. But so did the spread of anthrax through the mail just a few short weeks after 9/11. And so did the "Beltway Snipers" in suburban Washington, D.C. (We still haven't caught the anthrax killer even though he appears certain to have been someone with access to American bioweapons labs.)
The tragedy of the post-9/11 era, however, lies in the fact that our own government also generated considerable fear. It was, in fact, politically expedient for it to do so. The outrage is that our government did so using information that we now know to have been false in case after case. The very government charged with making us more secure generated great insecurity. And it color-coded our level of insecurity for good measure.
Terrorist acts can be thwarted and terrorists can be undercut by starving them of the support they need from their societies. But a "global war on terrorism" is an altogether different matter. It is akin to fighting a fire with gasoline. A different strategy is available and it needs to be implemented.
We know that absolute security is an impossibility. It always has been. But absolute security is not what anyone is asking for. Instead, we simply need a respite from rhetoric that focuses on fear and a reversal of those policies that have actually increased our insecurity.