Saturday, May 7, 2011

Post 9/11 America

I outsource the writing of this post to the Economist's Lexington

At home, a new generation is coming of age with little memory of the more open and trusting America of ten years ago. The new America keeps looking over its shoulder. It is permanently vigilant and relentlessly intrusive. Few people complain about the security-inspired hassles that have infected everyday activities, from boarding an airliner to applying for some required government document. Safety first is, understandably, the order of the day in a world in which killers hide bombs in their shoes and underpants. But the cumulative result of all these precautions is a wretched thing. A culture of suspicion, and its accompanying bureaucracy, take away trust in your fellow man. A less tolerant America, whose prosperity was built on openness to the world, has shut down its borders and locked out many of the skilled and eager immigrants whose help it could dearly use. 
How much of this can be reversed? A lot depends on whether people and their politicians see the value in trying. Early excesses in the war on terrorism, such as waterboarding, warrantless wiretapping and “extraordinary renditions”, have been stopped or rolled back. America’s strong Bill of Rights, respect for the law and tradition of liberty have helped to hold the goons and snoopers at bay. But fear, and the awful deeds that fear inspires, are hard to uproot. Americans are already quarrelling about whether it was waterboarding, now banned, that produced the tip that led the CIA to Abbottabad. With Mr bin Laden in his watery grave, a chapter may close. But the country he attacked faces a long road home to the more innocent place it was ten years ago.
This is what Balko means when he says that Bin Laden won. I'm just barely old enough to appreciate these changes, though I think I would qualify as part of the post 9/11 generation. I have lived my entire adult life under the shadow of Bin Laden and the threat of terrorism. It would be nice for that threat to no longer dominate the conversation. Bin Laden's death would be a great excuse to start that healing process.

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