Andrew Cline at Rhetorica writes:
Last week I began to notice the assertion “everything changed on 9/11”–especially as preceded by the ad populum fallacy “everyone knows.” I say “began to notice” because up until last week I have not encountered many situations in which someone actually spoke this assertion to me. I was certainly aware of it otherwise.
I noticed it because in each case my interlocutor wished to frame his/her remarks in a new reality that supposedly proved his/her conclusions, e.g. “Everyone knows that everything changed on 9/11, so we had to invade Iraq to fight terrorism.”
This has been much on my mind lately, too. As Nels wrote in the comments to Dr. Cline’s post, 9/11 gave us a glimpse of our vulnerability in one sudden, shocking, collective experience. The events of that day shifted our understanding of the world in certain fundamental ways, but 9/11 most certainly did not “change everything.”
Here are a few things 9/11 didn’t change, just off the top of my head: it didn’t change our Constitution, our laws, our history, or our traditions. It didn’t change our need for access to healthcare, good jobs, and a strong economy. It didn’t change the meaning of fairness, honesty, or truth. It didn’t change our essential impulse to be good to each other. It didn’t change our need to educate our children, nor did it diminish in any way the importance of a free press. 9/11 didn’t make us any less obsessed with pop culture or with shopping or gossip. 9/11 didn’t make us any less dependent on foreign oil. Our freedom to travel has been subject to small inconveniences, but not curtailed in the least. 9/11 didn’t even change the fundamental safety record of airlines, for crying out loud; flying is still the safest way to travel.
(My wife makes a good point here: It is in times of greatest danger when our essential values are most called upon. We are not a free society only when it’s easy. Our freedoms and our “American character” are supposed to be what carry us through when the going gets rough.)
9/11 didn’t change everything, but our response to 9/11 changed a lot. We are less safe, less respected, less liked, and less powerful. I, for one, am tired of hearing people repeat this worn phrase as prelude to shirking their responsibility or abusing their power. 9/11 did not change the essential character of American society or make us any less a democratic republic. If any of that happens, we will have done it to ourselves.