I've found myself unwilling to do a 9/11 retrospective. I suppose that's because, for me, conflict is conflict, war is war. 9/11 was not so much an outrage as a marker.
There is--there has always been--violent disagreement about what the world is and what the world should be. And this disagreement is usually conducted by young hot-heads. In our day these hot-heads are the sons of the educated elite. Thus it was that the 9/11 terrorists were mostly the sons of well-to-do Saudis.
Today the world is divided. It is divided mostly between those that are trying to understand the meaning of the industrial revolution and those trying to oppose the industrial revolution. Some people say: there has been a profound revolution in the way that the human race lives its life, due to the scientific and energy revolutions. We need to discover how to live our lives in recognition of that fact. There are others, and many of them live in the West, who say that industrialism, capitalism, and prosperity have combined to divorce humans from their humanness and from God, and that only a violent turn away from democratic capitalism can save us.
In my view, the present democratic capitalism based upon Judeo-Christian culture is the best thing going. Every effort in the last two hundred years to attack it or to substantially restructure it has been a bloody failure. The great religious movements of socialism, communism, and fascism failed after monstrous religious wars and outrages. Now we are in the middle of another religious movement, the Islamic reaction against Judeo-Christian democratic capitalism.
The immediate reaction of the United States government after 9/11 was to ramp up its security apparatus, both foreign and domestic, and we can see now that the results were mixed. At home the government has erected a huge bumbling inspection regime that has humiliated the American people in dozens of ways. Abroad the government has found that wars against Islamist-harboring thug dictators is a lot more complicated than anyone would want.
Domestically, the government seems to think that the only way to protect the American people is to herd them around like cattle. Abroad it has found that military force leaves a horrible political vacuum in its wake. These failures of post 9/11 US policy are not scandalous. All government action is drenched in failure. But there seems to be an important lesson that the US government is slow to learn.
Humans are not cattle. Americans showed, from the first moments after the first plane exploded on the World Trade Center, that they are capable and resourceful in responding to the terror threat. The passengers on Flight 93 understood, from communications with the ground, that they had to stop the flight and they did, sacrificing their lives in the process. They ended the "airplane hijack" era in which hijackers were the actors and passengers were the non-actors. IT was passengers that subdued the underpants bomber. Government policy must pivot to encourage and respect the abilities of the resourceful American people.
In military operations it is clear that military questions cannot be divorced from political questions. And beyond both is the battle of ideas. We westerners must politely but firmly assert our ideas and values against the ideas and values of the Islamic extremists. And that means everyone, from the pope on down.
The result of the great battle between democratic capitalism and socialism has now been won. The two great cultures of India and China were initially seduced by the socialists, the revolutionary communists in China and the democratic socialists in India. In the years since each country abandoned socialism their peoples have vaulted into the democratic capitalist world with an energy that leaves the rest of the world breathless.
The same will doubtless be true when the peoples of Islam abandon their fight against democratic capitalism. We may hope that in doing so they will bring a critique to democratic capitalism that will improve it.
But meanwhile the West must oppose the forces that wish to demolish our democratic capitalism.