Late last year I penned an article
decrying pseudo-patriotism. I spoke of the sudden reversal, since
9-11-01, of the idea that “the era of big government is over” and
its replacement with runaway empire – in the name of the war
on terrorism. While I received plenty of email from readers thanking
me for expressing what they had been thinking, that article also
brought down on my head the wrath of a fellow writer I respect –
who told me that my article had “confirm[ed his] decision to have
nothing more to do with the van Mises [sic.] Institute or anyone
associated with it.” Puzzled and dismayed, I asked for an explanation.
I received it. The exchange of emails has stayed in my mind ever
The writer’s response suggested that I “and Rockwell act as if
nothing fundamental happened on Sept. 11…. Utter lack of thought,
and a willingness to side with evil…. Arab terrorists killed 4,000
people, and there are evidently more just like them still in the
U.S. ready to kill again…. Nobody is imposing a police state. [Bush
and Ashcroft] want to snoop on and wiretap Arabs to prevent other
terrorists from killing thousands of more people. That sounds perfectly
reasonable to me…. I don’t think you really mind what the terrorists
did. I find no trace of anger or grief or outrage or lust for revenge
or any other appropriate emotions. Only a curious lack of affect….
Sept. 11 caused me, as I think it caused a great many people, to
pause and ask themselves whether a lot that they had believed up
to that moment was really true…. I see absolutely no evidence that
anybody on your side has reflected for a single second. It’s the
same old mantras. Big Government is the menace, Big Government is
looking for an excuse to take over…. Big Government is using the
murder of 4,000 innocent people … as an excuse to take away our
freedom. Utter bull****.”
I let the response sit for a while, as I collected my thoughts.
Had I not been angry on Sept. 11? I certainly thought so, although
I hadn’t written down my thoughts and submitted them. My anger was
overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding; no one, after all, was sure
the attacks were over or what more attacks would do to the infrastructure
of this country. Initially, too, we all thought far more people
had been killed than turned out to be the case. I knew I had not
maintained that “nothing fundamental happened on Sept. 11.” A week
following the event I had written
about the “cycles of history” and suggested that the attack
by Arab terrorists on U.S. soil was about to precipitate a period
of crisis of a sort that occurs on an average of slightly over 70
years. It was a hypothesis – not perfect, but interesting.
And suggestive of danger. The authors of the “cycles of history”
thesis seemed not to have noticed that each previous period of crisis
– the one following the Constitutional Convention of 1787,
that beginning with Lincoln’s war against the South, and one starting
with the Crash of ’29 followed by the Great Depression – was
the scene of an unprecedented federal power grab.
So something terrible did happen on 9-11-01; who in his right mind
would say otherwise? We will almost certainly be living with it
for a long time to come. But on the other hand, did the terrorist
attacks change the case for liberty? Did they change basic economic
law? Did they change the need to approach problems – even very
serious ones – rationally instead of emotionally? In my reply
to my email correspondent I posed such questions. I also went on
to wonder whether Big Government had done anything that would have
stopped 9-11 or would stop another such attack. Surely seizing nail
clippers, strip-searching paraplegics and otherwise stopping ordinary
citizens (usually white, never Arab – that would be “racial
profiling”) at airports was not going to stop another attack. Perhaps,
I suggested, 9-11 illustrated not the need for more Big Government
but the utter failure of Big Government.
After all, what were the 19 people who hijacked those planes doing
in this country in the first place? They were here in large part
because of our absurd, open-door immigration policies. They had
learned to fly here. No doubt, had they been refused admission to
private flight schools, they could have sued under our own antidiscrimination
laws and won. Moreover, some of the 19 who turned planes into flying
bombs had expired visas. As if Big Government’s refusal to face
the reality that we have a serious immigration problem isn’t bad
enough, a couple of months back, the
INS renewed Mohammed Atta’s visa along with one other hijacker,
sending it to the flight school where he trained. That’s right,
that’s the name of the guy who, according to official accounts,
was the local ringleader of the 9-11 attacks. Big Government’s computers
spit him out a new visa, and no one catches it! Meanwhile, illegal
immigrants continue to cross over our border with Mexico, with the
full blessings of Mexico’s internationalist president, Vicente Fox.
Potential terrorists are crossing with them (not to mention the
Hispanics who want dual citizenship and are colonizing the American
Southwest). Big Government is doing nothing to stop this. As far
as Rome on the Potomac is concerned, it might as well not be happening.
Does anyone still wonder why we don’t trust Big Government to take
care of us? Perhaps if Osama bin Laden himself shaved off his beard
and applied, America’s generous bureaucrats would grant him a visa.
Yes, some of us have “reflected” plenty following 9-11, and our
reflections have led us to wonder whether there is anyone left in
Rome on the Potomac who has the intelligence of a potted plant.
Small wonder we were, and still are, vulnerable to attack by foreigners!
In my email I also raised an issue that has recently exploded all
over the news: I’ll call it the Foreknowledge Question. It can be
posed in more than one way. I had posed it to myself long before
(within a week of the events, in fact), and I posed it to my email
correspondent: the 9-11 attacks were obviously the result of a long
period of very careful planning and orchestration. We may have been
attacked by suicidal psychopaths, but they were not stupid psychopaths.
I found myself wondering: were we supposed to believe that this
was going on right under the noses of the largest (and most expensive)
intelligence community in the world, and nobody sensed anything?
Not even with the World Trade Center having been attacked once before,
in 1993? If it was indeed the case that an attack calling for this
level of preparation was being planned and no one in our intelligence
community detected anything amiss, then that raised the further
question: with a level of incompetence that high on open display,
why should any rational person trust Big Government to protect us
However, that probably isn’t the right question. There was a sense
that something was up – although you had to be paying attention
or you would have missed it. There was talk of terrorism on American
soil last summer. This is fact, not speculation. During this period
I was doing some freelance writing in Columbia, South Carolina,
and was assigned an article on the tightening of security at Fort
Jackson, just outside the city. It was a straight news item, nothing
more. But the reason for the tightening of security: fear of terrorism.
Somebody in the upper echelons suspected something. The question
are: what did they suspect, who knew what, and when did they know
it? Regrettably, the attention has focused on a more specific question:
what did President Bush know? Congressional Democrats in particular
have been cynically doing everything in their power to turn this
into a partisan contest, something it is not since obviously the
Democrats had the same access to information as the Republicans.
I’ve no theories of my own about anything Bush Jr. personally might
have known. But there were resolutions pertaining to “homeland security”
on Big Government’s web pages dating back to February
of 2001, respectively. These resolutions were introduced in the
Senate. They provide hard evidence that someone was thinking about
terrorism on U.S. soil before Sept. 11 – and seeing opportunities
for expanding the domestic power of the federal government.
Of course, this doesn’t prove that anyone knew anything as specific
as that planes would be flown into the World Trade Center towers
and the Pentagon on such-and-such a day. There is no reason to think
that a secret group of Anglo-American conspirators orchestrated
the attacks and then blamed them on Osama bin Laden, who for all
practical purposes has taken credit for them. But it is surely possible
that persons yet unknown but very powerful knew that something of
this sort might happen, and soon; all that needed to be done is
ensure that preparations were cosmetic instead of substantive, and
focused in the wrong places. Then they could simply remove all obstacles
– including allowing
pilots to arm themselves. It is now clear that Big Government
specific warnings about Al Qaeda prior to 9-11. Terrorism
experts had repeatedly warned of threats from militant Islamic groups
operating in this country, having gotten in through our porous borders.
At best they were told by their superiors in both the Clinton and
the Bush regimes to back off, and at worst, they were vilified.
If one connects the dots, the conclusion that someone had foreknowledge
that something like 9-11 was about to take place is inescapable.
The issue was not if, but when. Moreover, I keep hearing rumors
about an oil pipeline to be built across Afghanistan – something
that would require a U.S.-friendly regime in place there.
It might be useful to ask, who benefited the most from a horrific
attack on an American symbol of prosperity? Who benefitted from
the playing and replaying of scenes of the planes crashing into
the World Trade Center towers, their burning and then collapsing,
over and over again, night after night, for weeks on end? Who benefits
today, from repeated warnings by both Bush Jr. and federal officials,
of the ongoing danger from new attacks in the planning stages?
The answer should be clear, once we realize that much of the American
public could, and can, be counted on to react in a predictable way.
Frightened out of their wits by what was coming into their rooms
from their television screens, naturally many people turned to Big
Government for protection. We started seeing open promotions of
such things as national ID cards that had also been on Big Government’s
table in the past but always met with staunch opposition. We saw
Big Government federalize airport security – although no one
explained why the next terrorist attack would necessarily involve
a plane. Big Government’s means of preventing terrorists from boarding
planes involved taking away white men’s nail clippers and extra
cigarette lighters and searching 80-year-old ladies in wheelchairs,
as I noted above. Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta was
evacuated and shut down for three hours because an ordinary white
male ran the wrong way down an escalator. Police were alerted in
Miami, Fla., when a private plane was sighted flying low over town
– all the while someone had parked a large Ryder truck in front
of a government building and simply walked off. Finally, people
have sneaked weapons – firearms, even – past the rocket
scientists Big Government has hired to handle airport security.
All this, and we are still told, against all reason and evidence,
by public intellectuals such as Francis
Fukuyama, that 9-11 meant the “fall of libertarianism.” Most
recently, we have seen the FBI give itself new powers to spy on
American citizens, including tracking their activities on the Internet.
It is unclear what will be done with the information gathered or
how it will stop the next terrorist attack, given that our porous
borders remain porous and politically correct edicts against “racial
profiling” have not been weakened very much.
In the meantime, we are not supposed to ask obvious questions about
why the Arabs hate us. Or if we do, we are supposed to acquiesce
to a Big Government-prepared answer: they hate us because of our
freedom and prosperity. Now to be sure, even with all of Rome on
the Potomac’s power grabs over the decades, there is still more
freedom in America than in any Arab state, and also more prosperity;
there is nothing to indicate that Islamics have any grasp of what
either one is or where it comes from. There are always people who
hate, fear, and want to destroy what they do not understand. (Look
how long Marxism has survived in one form or another, after all.)
There is probably something to the official party line. However,
isn’t it just as possible that their hatred for us also stems from,
e.g., our unconditional support for Israel and our constant meddling
in their affairs, with hints of more meddling to come (the aforementioned
oil pipeline)? To the pseudo-patriot, of course, this is Blame America
First thinking. But we haven’t “blamed America first” and we haven’t
exactly let Osama bin Laden off the hook. Speaking of him, where
is he? Seems no one in Big Government can find him despite the destruction
of the regime that was giving him cover, in a country ravaged by
over 20 years of war. Military personnel are still looking for him,
despite Bush Jr.’s saying that “we won in Afghanistan.” Bush Jr.
and Ashcroft have warned of a protracted struggle that could last
decades. Does the “war on terrorism” remind anyone but me of the
“war on drugs.” That “war” exacerbated drug use and criminal activity
while diminishing individual freedoms and privacy in the face of
the ever-expanding State. Will this “war” be any different?
Perhaps the final answer to my correspondent above ought to run
something as follows: If we are unwilling to trust Big Government
to protect us in a crisis, perhaps it is because we do not trust
either the competence or the will of Big Government to protect us.
Big Government will not stop illegal immigration for fear of offending
somebody. We can find direct evidence that Big Government was ready
for a circumstance that would allow it to increase its power, and
it has surely done so, by leaps and bounds, since 9-11. Big Government
was given explicit warnings by terrorism experts and by its own
people prior to 9-11 that something was coming. But Big Government
was afraid to take any decisive steps that might well have prevented
the deaths of over 3,000 innocent people. Finally, Big Government
continues making the same, stupid blunders over and over again,
domestic and foreign. Its answer to abject failure is to throw more
money and power at the failures. So the answer is that we have reflected
plenty – and concluded that the case for liberty, as opposed
to empire, has been strengthened, not weakened, by the 9-11 attacks.
Yates [send him mail]
is a Margaret “Peg” Rowley Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute,
where he is writing a book entitled The
Paradox of Liberty.
He has a PhD in philosophy, and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and dozens of articles in both academic and nonacademic
periodicals. He has relocated to Auburn, Alabama.