The American and Global Experience of 9/10, 9/11, 9/12 +10:

15 Sep

            There is unacknowledged freedom associated with any event inscribed in our individual and collective experience of profoundly disabling and disturbing public occurrences. For most older Americans what is most vividly remembered among such occurrences is likely to have been Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and the 9/11 attacks, each coming as a shock to a shared societal sense of exceeding the limits of what could be expected to happen.  I doubt that other societies would have a comparable hierarchy of recollections about these three rupture of expectations that have proved so significant for an understanding of American political identity over the course of the last fifty years. To make my point clearer, most Japanese would almost certainly single out Hiroshima, and possibly the more recent disaster that followed the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima meltdown, and are likely to ignore the events that Americans have found so transformative. Germans, and many Europeans, are likely to be inclined to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, and possibly the exposure of the Holocaust, while most citizens of former colonies are undoubtedly most moved by the day on which their national independence was finally achieved.


         Because American responses to such transformative events are likely to be global in their effect, there is a greater tendency to acknowledge some American preoccupations but not their interpretation. This diversity amid universality is probably truer for 9/11 than any other recent transformative event, not only because of the drama of the attacks and global visualization in real time, but as a result of the violence unleashed in response, what I identify here as the perspective of 9/12. Shifting ever so slightly the angle of perception greatly alters our sense of the significance of the event. Just as 9/12 places emphasis on the American response, the launching of ‘the global war on terror,’ the day before, 9/10 calls our attention to the mood of imperial complacency and global vulnerability to American power that preceded the attacks. This mood was completely oblivious to the legitimate grievances that pervaded the Arab populace associated with the appropriation of the region’s resources, the American support lent to cruel and oppressive tyrants, the lethal sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq for a decade, the deployment of massive numbers of American troops near to Muslim sacred sites, and the enabling over the course of many years of Israel’s oppressive dispossession and occupation of Palestinian lands. From this perspective, the crimes of 9/11 were widely understood as an outgrowth of the wrongs of 9/10 and led unreflectively to the crimes and strategic mistakes of 9/12.  Such a critical understanding does not diminish the criminality of attacks directed at civilians, a strategic pushback that violates the most fundamental constraints of law and morality.


           It is probably misleading to think of 9/11 as primarily a global historical event. Undoubtedly its interpretation is mainly a national experience more affected by 9/10 and 9/12 than by the attacks themselves. Such an observation reminds us that despite the hype about globalization that was so prominent during the dawn of the Information Age in the 1990s, it is our shared lives within a particular sovereign state that continues to dominate our political consciousness. Surely most Palestinians see 9/11 through an optic reflecting their ordeal as understood on 9/10, while most Israelis likely saw 9/11 as a long overdue enabling of the 9/12 response that led Americans to share Israel’s preexisting national preoccupation with terrorism.  A deeper encounter with 9/11 ten years later allows us to sense more clearly that most of us are still living in a world of sovereign states despite the borderless wonders of social networking and other globalizing phenomena of this historical period. Even Europe that seemed to go further toward establishing a state-transcending civilizational identity required only the stress of an economic recession to bring back its strong conviction that what mattered most was not being a European but rather being Italian, Spanish, Greek, or French.


            Of course, for Americans this is not so obvious. The United States is truly a global state, perhaps the first in history, with the capabilities and commitment to act anywhere on the planet if its vital interests are at stake. From this perspective, 9/11 was experienced by many Americans as a challenge that could be neither addressed territorially nor by retaliatory attacks on the enemy state that inflicted the harm.  The leaders at the time, but with wide national backing, insisted that future security meant limiting freedom at home while waging war abroad. It was this global projection of this American security response that made it natural for 9/12 to be the day that most stays in the mind of foreigners, perhaps not literally, but through their feelings of victimization that resulted from the American respnse by way of war rather than through reliance on the enforcement of law against those who commit crimes against humanity. This latter road not taken, and not even seriously considered, might have been the most radical peacemaking experiment in all of modern history. It was far too radical for either the leadership or the citizenry of not only America, but the constituted politics of all states.


            With this outlook of American geopolitical exceptionalism, globalization seems real. When Barrack Obama was elected the American president in November 2008, it was a global event, with people the world over often believing that his election was more important for their future than the outcome of their own national elections. When Lula went to a meeting in Europe of the G-20 while he was still President of Brazil he said that he prayed for Obama more than for himself. The American role in the world economy and security system is truly global, but does that mean that 9/11 was interpreted as a blow struck against the whole world as George W. Bush insisted at the time? Hardly. For parts of the world it meant new and increased violence in their homeland, drones attacking targets selected in the U.S., special forces and an array of mercenaries roaming covertly in search of terrorist suspects, and new wars.



           We are, of course, free to remember certain things and to forget others. This is normally not done consciously, but it will explain the incredible diversity of how 9/11 was observed on its tenth anniversary, itself a milestone that causes especially Americans to pause and reflect. For most Americans, this became an occasion for a renewal of remorse, lament, resolve, and anger, if not rage.


            The most innocent memories of 9/11 are those of loss, a recollectionthat is both personal and collective, associated with any human tragedy caused deliberately that has a negative impact on innocent civilian lives. Less innocent, and more relevant ten years later, is the complexity surrounding the response that is prompted by fear, revenge, counter-crusading passions, and geopolitical ambition. In these respects, 9/11 is both text and pretext, and gave way to the 9/12 furies that unleashed a global war on terror that has caused widespread destruction, questionable improvements in security, and a general weakening of the American claim to exercise global leadership.

9 Responses to “The American and Global Experience of 9/10, 9/11, 9/12 +10:”

  1. Victor September 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I can see how the nation can be placed in a position to believe or think that 9/11 was “a blow struck against the whole world,” as you put it, when the President of the United States speaks after an atrocity. There are nations across the globe that experience what we did, day-in and day-out, and we felt it in one swoop! This is not to say that we experienced anything less but it does go to demonstrate the kind of peace we have been fortunate to live in. We go through our own civil wars through political fights and monetary indiscretions that leaves a lot of US citizens in a fight for their lives in many cases. Nonetheless, our experience in the end was one of a global scale that includes many countries of the world pitching in different areas of the Middle East. Like many threats in our society we have become more aware rather than live in fear. I think that there is a fine line definition between fear and awareness in this country. I think that we woke up that day, 9/11/01, and started to see from a global perspective how people thousands of miles away affect us and the things near to our hearts.

  2. Erico September 16, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    very good professor, my opinion, all knowledge and ignorance paradoxically materialized in the empty space of the twin emblematic monuments, have we learned something? I really hope so. An inspiration: the new mother nature age is at our door, lets be like the cherry buds in their chaotic birth moment, they fear about its own future but can not avoid the necessity and strength that impels them to an exciting new life …

    • Richard Falk September 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

      Erico: What a happy surprise to receive your comment that is as hopeful as it is lyrical!
      If it is a new dawn the light is not yet visible to my eye, but we need patience. Hope you are all fine! Richard

  3. jeni September 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Thanks for your post and insight that 9/11 was (is) both text and pretext. Yes, a legacy of debts…ethical, moral and economic. Nationalistic brouhaha was whipped up around Australia’s support of the US government’s invasion of Iraq post 9/11; however back then our streets erupted with mass protests against the war. Today there seems to be no viable opposition to the US-Australian military alliance in Afghanistan or the increasing US military presence in Australia and the Pacific (let alone a public conversation). The recent 9/11 anniversary events, enacted here in our media and parliament, also demonstrated ‘a renewal of remorse, lament, resolve, and anger, if not rage’, offering little analysis or reflection on the repercussions of the ‘war on terror’.

    • Richard Falk September 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks, Jeni, for this perceptive comment that touches on some crucial issues. Richard

  4. monalisa September 18, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    Dear Richard,
    thank you for your summary and thoughts on developments in the political arena over the last decade/s.

    I think that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and much more with the implosion of the former Soviet Union and with it the end of the Cold War things in the political arena started to change.

    USA has become a military ruled state where people are far too much controlled. Unfortunately it reminds me very strongly on the former Soviet Union where the state spied onto his own people and military power played an important role. I think it doesn’t matter if communism or capitalism is prevalent in a country if such ruling structures have on their agenda practically the same targets: spying on their own people and military power shown within and outside the country. The outcome could be the same for the people and the country itself.

    In my opinion that the president of USA has to show to be of some sort of “Christian belief” is also in itself contradict in a state where so different ethnic people/groups and religious beliefs are the base for the United States of America as something special. Or at least US citizen think so.
    Many people fleed to United States of America because of religious beliefs.
    Abandoning more and more the foundation of United States being a free and democratic state and putting Moslems as a political target
    (instead of the former Soviet Union and Communism!) isn’t very much advantageous for its citizens.
    This way of political thought-structure shows that USA didn’t learn from the past. Nor did it learn from or even consider the fall of other countries.
    A state falling victim to some neocons and declaring war on sovereign countries and thinking that ruling the world means only military power will not show to be effective for a longer time. This because our globe inhabits many different beliefs and cultures. If everything will be destroyed and uniformity will implemented what would our globe look like ?

    Demonstrations against war are quite often in Europe and a lot of people do’t want war at all. However, many European politicans are still supporting some “war”structures in accordance with the USA and NATO.


    • Richard Falk September 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      Always, Monalisa, your comments are illuminating and instructive, especially their insight into the European tension between the political and the human. I feel it may be time for you to launch your own blog, giving me the chance to submit comments!! With warm wishes, Richard


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