by Doctor Science
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering leads to the Dark Side.
As I've said, my emotional reaction to September 11 was full of fear and grief. Now, it has often seemed to me -- and to many others -- that in the years after that day much of the American people went crazy with fear. In particular, this was how I felt about the push for the Iraq War.
But I opposed the war, from the start. Does that mean I was less frightened by 9/11 than the war's supporters? Or that I was as frightened as they were, but braver?
The idea creates real cognitive dissonance for me, because more men were in favor of the Iraq War than women, and I do tend to reflexively think of men as braver than women in general and me in particular. I also tend to reflexively think of men (in general) as knowing and caring more about war than women do, and of thinking about it more seriously and in detail (possibly due to my generation: all the fathers were vets, and all the boys were facing a draft for an apparently endless war). Yet AFAIK members of the military were more in favor of invading Iraq than the general public, and stayed in favor of the war longer (though my google-fu doesn't lead me to any concrete data; correct me if I'm wrong). At least people in the South supported the war disproportionately, and the military is also disproproportionately Southern.
In contrast, I was opposed to the attack on Iraq from the start, and worked as hard as I could to avert it: I didn't just write letters, I went to my Senator's office with a petition. I argued, I pled, I went to candlelight vigils. We all know how well *that* worked.
Now, in retrospect, most people seem to be acknowledging that:
- there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attackers
- the rationale the Bush Administration put forth for the war was at best specious, at worst deliberately deceptive
- the Administration's planning for the war and (especially) for the occupation were staggeringly incompetant
- the consequences of the war for the US were bad (loss of life, limb, security, and money), and the Iraqi people catastrophic (death or injury for hundreds of thousands, millions of refugees).
The thing is, most of these points seemed patently obvious to me in February 2003 -- except for #3, the incompetance of the Bush Administration, which I *really* wasn't expecting. I thought they *cared* about war and would do a much better job at it than they did.
What I've never really understood is why so many serious, thoughtful, or militarily-experienced people promoted or went along with a war that even I, a mere woman and reader of history, could tell was a really, really bad idea.
A few people who were originally war supporters but changed their minds have posted about their reactions to 9/11 and how it shaped their support for the Iraq War.
Noah Millman, who was in NYC, writes about The Mind Killer (which I was originally planning to use for the title of this post, drat it all):
I wandered around in a daze of rage and fear for, oh, days it seems.Andrew Sullivan asks Did Osama win?:
We wound up in war in Iraq, in a very real sense, because "finishing the job" in Iraq imparted an appealing meaning to the terrorist attacks. And opposing the war felt like it tore the meaning off that terrible day, leaving its empty horror naked before us. That's how it felt to me, at the time, when I think back.
As a way of generating pure, unalloyed terror, this was demonically perfect. I was terrified by the thought of the mayhem in the buildings. I was immobilized watching a live, instantaneous mass death. I was traumatized by the huge wall of dust that spread like a CGI wave through the streets of lower Manhattan. I was, like most of us, simply terrorized.Bill Keller of the New York Times, of his Unfinished 9/11 Business:
We were seized with righteous rage, every ounce of which was justified. But the victim of a rape is not the best person to initiate the strategy to bring the rapist to justice. And we, alas, were all we had.
Yes, I know many were not fooled. I tip my hat to them. I am ashamed my own panic overwhelmed my own judgment. But that is an explanation, not an excuse: I cannot imagine any other circumstance in which I would simply trust the government, period. But, as fear dominated my being, trust I did—as did a majority of Americans who supported the war that handed bin Laden exactly what he wanted.
the suddenly apparent menace of the world awakened a bellicose surge of mission and made hawks of many — including me — who had a lifelong wariness of the warrior reflex.Now, Bill Keller says of his fellow "liberal hawks"
Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism.
that it is surely relevant that this is exclusively a boys' club.Ruth Rosen writes:
No, they weren't going to be wimps, not these powerful male intellectuals. And, as he concedes, [we] "were still a little drugged by testosterone." No comment.what Rosen describes is a form of gaslighting, where men accuse women of being emotional and irrational, when it's actually the *men* who were (at least according to Keller) being yanked around by their hormones, reacting with pure emotion and rejecting rationality.
Those of us who exposed the lies and deceptions never had a chance. If anyone listened, they dismissed us as unpatriotic, or as women, or as men who had been emasculated because they, too, were equally convinced an invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake.
When I read Millman, Sullivan, and Keller's accounts of their reactions to 9/11, I do notice one difference from my reaction. I find it hard to believe that they were truly more frightened than I was, because I felt pretty damn scared. My household *did* turn off the TV that morning and keep it off for months, so it's possible that not seeing the images (over and over and over again) kept a lot of the terror from infecting my brain.
The main difference I see is that all these men talk about being *angry*, as well as frightened. I don't recall being particularly angry after 9/11, and I'm still not really angry at the terrorists. Anger, to me, is for people who disappoint me, who are worse than I expected -- and since Al-Qaeda had bombed the WTC *before*, I expected them to be pretty bad. I feel horror, yes, but the idea of being angry at them feels like being angry at the tsunami, or at a serial killer. I'm not going to stop such people from being evil, or from trying to do evil, because that's what they *are*. My anger came much later, when I learned that Bush's reaction to the CIA's "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US" memo was "All right. You've covered your ass, now." *That* filled me with rage, because I expected better of the President, no matter what party he is.
So I wonder if the slide to the Dark Side started, as Yoda says, when fear led to anger -- especially the anger of thwarted expectations. The expectation in question seems to have been "it can't happen here because we're just That Special" -- or "I'm that special", maybe. Sprog the Elder points out that for women in our culture the possibility that "strange men will suddenly appear and do horrible things to you" is something we're constantly warned about, so maybe it was less of a completely stupid-making existential shock when it did occur, even in this fashion. I recall reading someone's first-person account of looking across the Hudson that afternoon from the Jersey side, and there being a young man present in the crowd who kept saying angrily, "this is bullshit, this is *bullshit*" -- as though, somehow, someone was trying to deceive him with reality. I wonder if he became a Truther ... that Wikipedia entry implies they're mostly males in their 20s ...
And since, as I said, my anger tends to come from disappointment, from people who are worse than I expect, I guess I am still angry with the people in the US military. I really did expect them to be braver than me, less motivated by fear -- but instead they seem to have been just as dedicated to testosterone-fuelled displays of stupidity as a bunch of pasty pundits, and with even less excuse.
And yeah, I know, civilian control of the military and all that. But I also don't believe for a minute that there wouldn't have been a way for the flag officers to Signal Their Disapproval, or to warn sternly and effectively about how bad an idea this was -- there are a lot of ways to say "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." There were *plenty* of retired (or maybe "retired") officers eager to go on TV and be experts, and I think if the officer corps had actually been opposed to the Iraq War they would have been there, shaking their heads regretfully.
No, the evidence suggests that the Professionally Brave were frightened enough to stop thinking, too, just like the rest of the Manly Manly Men. Or maybe it's that adult men aren't used to feeling frightened and have no context for the feeling besides "it's time to beat someone up", so when something happens that's really, truly frightening they can't cope. Either way, it's really hard for me to call it courage.