9/11 brings selective memory with regards to security

On this day, we remember 9/11 and the nearly 3,000 lives lost. But on this day, we also choose to forget. We forget the horrific way the American government responded, the wars and the spying and the lies. The phrase “never forget” is heard frequently, particularly on this date, and doing so is supposedly a symbol of American resilience and unity. But 9/11 has also been a tool, part of a manipulative effort to scare citizens into obedience. We remembered 9/11 as our troops terrorized Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and invaded Iraq in search of who knows what. We remember 9/11 as we prepare to intervene in Syria, to add to a different body count that is far greater than 3,000.

The events on 9/11 changed everything. We live in a post-9/11 world. This mindset is used to justify many of our government’s more questionable actions. The NSA and its domestic spying programs, which President Barack Obama continues to deny exist, are necessary because of this post-9/11 world. Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence like Republican Rep. Peter King claim these warrantless wiretaps have prevented that tragedy. But spying had actually started up to seven months before 9/11, per former QWest CEO John Nacchios, and it has not stopped tragedies since, like the Boston Marathon bombings. The wars have not stopped terrorism either — a stronger argument could be made that by increasing anti-American sentiment, wars have increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks.

And what is that likelihood? Estimates currently put the chance of an American dying in a terrorist attack in the United States at 1 in 20 million. In other words, the chance of you dying in a terrorist attack is .00000005 percent. That is an impossibly small number, but it is also one that will never equal zero. As long as we live in a free society, where I can buy a gun tomorrow or order the materials to build a bomb online today, terrorism will be possible.

That is no reason to live in fear. Obama lamented, “The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident, unfortunately.” These statistics are unfortunate for Obama, because it is much easier to frighten citizens into apathy and obedience with plane crashes and bombs than dysfunctional brakes and occasional accidents. The government wants Americans to remember the fear of 9/11 without any attempt to understand its causes or aftermath. We should forget 9/11, not the victims or the event itself, but the irrational patriotism and fear it inspired, in favor of remembering Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Prism.


A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 11 print edition. Ian Mark is a staff columnist. Email him at [email protected]



  1. “Irrational patriotism” is a harsh term to use. Yes, the post-9/11 world isn’t ideal and there may be many things about it (i.e. TSA regulations, NSA screenings, etc., etc.) that we don’t like. True, many of these measures are seen as punitive and may not be transparent nor truthful. But if you distill post-9/11 sentiment down into just these actions, you are missing half of the picture. Terrorism wasn’t new when 9/11 occurred, as is evident with the previous WTC-bombing attempt, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Pan-Am catastrophe over Scotland—but 9/11 was larger in scale and more devastating to the US than any terror attack prior. Al-Qaeda (spearheaded by Osama Bin Laden) wanted to break down US morale and leave us in a vulnerable state so that the “jihad” could be easily won. What ended up happening, however, is that Americans became patriotic as ever (irrationally so, as you claim) and decided, as the US always has, to tout one of the foundational statements of the United States of America: “Don’t Tread on [Us]”. Whether this was the right decision or not, who knows—yes, acts of terrorism haven’t stopped, but we did manage to send a message to the leaders of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda—the Taliban have significantly lost their foothold in Afghanistan, as has Al-Qaeda.

    The Invasion of Iraq was meant “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people” (President Bush) That’s hardly “who knows what”. Yes, perhaps we went too far in attempting to implement democracy in Iraq, but the initial reasoning makes sense—there was a terrorist attack on the US and Saddam Hussein had pretty strong ties with the Taliban. In addition, as with Syria, the loss of innocent civilian lives in Iraq was great, so the US (again, as we always have) felt the need to step in and trounce the bully.

    Now, I’ll say that it’s true—the odds of another terror attack are minimal, and the chance that you will die in one, even slimmer. There are other instances of attacks on US soil (Newtown, Aurora, Boston Marathon, etc.) that are still occurring and are very viable. We remember these events because public memory helps stay alert. If we put these catastrophic events out of our minds, there wouldn’t be a precedent on how to react, or what to do if such an event were to happen again. Furthermore, we wouldn’t be constantly on the lookout for threats to our security. The reason that the odds are so slim is because we never forget, is because we are always on alert, and is because we have taken the harsh (and seemingly punitive, illogical, and border-line immoral) measures to protect the US.

    We remember not only our greatest moments (Independence Day, Iwo Jima, Appomattox), but our worst as well (Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina)—and it is the “selective memory,” that helps define what “American” means. Without our history, we would be an amalgam of peoples from all over the world that didn’t have any stories, any cultural practices that kept them in sync. Our history, in addition to providing us with precedents to follow and ideals to hold up, is what makes us “American.” So, call it “irrational patriotism” or otherwise, I think I’ll choose to never forget the 9/11 attacks.

    • The irony is that Ian Mark has no real sense of patriotism at all, just take a look at the other articles he’s written. Most of them focus on attacking every facet of America and defending or praising China and Iran. Still waiting for his articles on North Korea and bin Laden…


      With all due respect, Ian hasn’t forgotten anything, least of all 9/11. He has never remembered it to begin with.

  2. Honestly, the U.S. probably shouldn’t have attacked either country, but you do know that most Afghans and Iraqis likely quietly prefer their new lives over their old ones, do you? Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite extremist factions were largely responsible for most of the civilian casualties, it really wasn’t like U.S. soldiers just slaughtering everything they saw moving day after day, like some people believe.

    And besides, now that America has left Iraq, most Iraqis probably prefer them back, you’d understand if you go to Iraq some day…again, this is a highly controversial issue, and I do think that we should learn to let go of 9/11 to a certain extent, and recognize that the U.S. is by no means free of blood, but also to honor the dead in silence and memory.


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