By Jacob Hornberger
Given that today is the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it serves as a good day to place that event in the context of how we began as a nation, where we are today, and what we need to do to put things back on the right track.
The 9/11 attacks were not the first post-Cold War terrorist attacks against the United States. There was the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that was no different in principle from the attacks that occurred on 9/11. There were also the attacks on the USS Cole and on the U.S. Embassies in East Africa.
Why all these terrorist attacks against the United States? Because after the Cold War ended, the U.S. government went into the Middle East and began poking hornets’ nests. There was the Persian Gulf intervention, the intentional destruction of Iraq’s water and sewage treatment plants, the brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people, the U.S. government’s public position that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it,” the stationing of American troops on Islamic holy lands, the deadly no-fly zones of Iraq, the unconditional support of the Israeli government, and more.
It’s not that difficult to provoke someone into striking back. Even on a personal level, if you keep punching a person in the face or keep bullying him, the likelihood is that at some point he’s going to take a swing at you, even if you’re much bigger and stronger.
That’s what President Franklin Roosevelt did to the Japanese prior to the Pearl Harbor attacks. Hoping that he could goad Japan into attacking the United States, FDR pushed them and provoked them with such things as an oil embargo, the freezing of Japanese assets in the United States, and the imposition of humiliating terms in pre-war negotiations.
FDR’s strategy worked. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, FDR was able to say: We’ve been attacked! We’re shocked! We’re innocent! We were just minding our own business! This is a day of infamy.
It’s no different with the crisis in Ukraine. After the Cold War ended, U.S. officials, operating through NATO, began absorbing Eastern European countries, thereby enabling NATO forces to get closer and closer to Russia’s borders. Not surprisingly, Russia reacted to the provocations in the same what that the United States would have reacted to Russian forces establishing themselves in Cuba or along the U.S.-Mexico border.
After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials said: We’ve been attacked by the terrorists! We’re shocked! We’re innocent! We were just minding our own business! Another day of infamy! They just hate us for our freedom and values! We will now need to adopt emergency totalitarian powers and also invade Iraq and Afghanistan!
But those terrorist attacks had nothing to do with hatred for America’s freedom and values, any more than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had anything to do with Japanese hatred for America’s freedom and values.
It was all about U.S. foreign policy — an imperialist foreign policy — an interventionist foreign policy — one carried out by the national-security branch of the federal government, a branch that came into existence after World War II and that fundamentally altered America’s governmental structure in the name of fighting communism and a “cold war” against America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, here at FFF we were publishing articles saying that if the U.S. government did not stop what it was doing in the Middle East, there would inevitably be a terrorist attack on American soil. We weren’t the only ones. See the great book pre-9/11 book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire by Chalmers Johnson, who was saying the same thing.
But U.S. officials doggedly continued with their deadly and destructive interventionism, which ultimately led to the 9/11 attacks and the claims that the terrorists just hate us for our freedom and values.
Not surprisingly, U.S. officials seized upon the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to take away the fundamental freedoms of the American people (and to declare a “war on terrorism” and to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, which produced a steady supply of new terrorists). The president, who heads the executive branch, and officials in the national security branch, combined to assume emergency totalitarian powers. The powers were supposed to be temporary but since the “war on terrorism” was certain to last longer than even the Cold War, the powers became permanent, ready to be used whenever another right opportunity presented itself.
Such powers include: the power of the military to arrest any American citizen as a suspected terrorist, incarcerate him in a military dungeon or concentration camp as long it wants without trial, torture him, and execute him. Formal programs of torture, rendition, and assassination became a permanent part of America’s governmental structure, including for use against American citizens anywhere in the world, including here in the United States. The NSA’s massive secret surveillance scheme also became a permanent part of America’s governmental structure.
Meanwhile, federal spending and debt to pay for all this, as well as fund America’s massive welfare state, continue to soar, leading the country in the direction of bankruptcy.
Many Americans still innocently believe that despite the assumption of these emergency totalitarian powers, they still live in a free society. They never cease to praise the troops who are killing people thousands of miles away from the United States for protecting “our freedom.” Even worse, some of them proved more than willing and eager to trade our freedom to federal officials for the sake of security.
All those emergency powers are inherent to totalitarian regimes. Indeed, the entire concept of a national security state is inherent to a totalitarian regime. How can people be free when they’re living under a totalitarian-like apparatus whose officials wield the omnipotent power to assassinate them, incarcerate them, and torture them?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. These are all the types of things our American ancestors tried to protect us from. Consider the Bill of Rights. It doesn’t address foreign regimes or terrorists. It addresses the federal government. It assumes that the federal government is likely to do some very bad things to people. The Bill of Rights says: Don’t even try.
Consider the Constitution. While it did in fact call the federal government into existence, it severely restricted its powers.
Why did it do that?
Because our American ancestors believed that even though they were bringing the federal government into existence, they also knew that it would be a grave danger to their freedom and well-being. That’s why they limited its powers to those enumerated in the document. The Bill of Rights was then added on as an additional protection.
The result: There was no standing army, no CIA, no NSA, no military industrial complex, no involvement in foreign wars, no programs of torture and assassination, no surveillance schemes, no foreign aid, no coups, no regime-change operations, no conscription, no sanctions, no embargoes, and no foreign interventions.
It was the most unusual governmental structure in history, notwithstanding the many infringements on freedom that still remained, such as slavery and corporatism. (Keep in mind: There was also no welfare state, no Social Security, no Medicare, no public schooling, no drug laws, no gun control, no farm subsidies, no Federal Reserve, no fiat money, and no immigration controls.)
It’s really not difficult to understand the reason for the morass in which America is mired. By grafting a welfare-warfare state apparatus onto America’s original governmental structure, the nation abandoned its founding principles and has been paying the price ever since in the form of a loss of liberty, prosperity, harmony, and peace.
The way back should be obvious.
This article was originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation.