by Steven Yates

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 since.

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 now?

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 and May 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 was given 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.

June 8, 2002