Should we now turn inward and rebuild, letting down our guard against evil in the world? Or should we maintain the struggle for a better future while allowing our treasure and freedom to slowly drain away?
In the decade after the Soviet Union fell, the world opened up to us all; a booming economy and planetary freedom seeming ours for the taking. As the Iron curtain opened up to trade with the world our new communications technologies boomed. Financial practices were loosen creating a vast new source of credit for anyone who could ask for money. All over the globe the economies of the world soared.
9/11 shocked us. A large scale attack inside USA borders, long protected by vast oceans, put fear in hearts. I remember distinctly that in small towns across the land, people who afraid that their own little community would be the next target, demanded the government act in a big and dramatic way. Our surprise exaggerated the threat until we felt existence itself may be threatened.
"They" wanted to take away our freedoms.
Shock and Awe
The reaction to this new horror was to spend blood and treasure on security, combat and construction of public works here and in far away lands. Huge build ups in surveillance, secret soldiers, and military might drove us forward. Massive government agencies were restructured to face the looming doom of a landless enemy who would do our "homeland" harm.
War was waged in places where conflict had already raged for thousands of years. Free people thought technology, money, science, and even ideology would be naturally triumphant. Who could dare stand before such awesome piles of money and military might?
After a decade of effort at home and around the globe, the criminals who would hurt us were caught or captured. Ben Laden was put in Davy Jone's Locker. Although violence recruited new enemies, they too were sought out and brought to pay a price.
With time, terrorism itself no longer seems an imminent and real threat to us individually. We gradually felt our small towns safe again.
Devastation and turmoil were left in our wake, as millions of lives lay shattered and radically changed. Revolutions were triggered across dozens of countries as dictators and tyrants fell. New governments are not always good governments. Now nations are unstable, in chaos, or even engaged in brutal civil wars.
Professional soldiers, stretched to their limit and beyond suffer from combat fatigue, long separation from family, and traumatic stress.
Economies built on a bubble of easy borrowed money spent by citizens, corporations, and congresses have left the world economy teetering like a drunken sailor on a pay day binge.
The west wearies of fear and violence.
Terrorism's will never be gone. Terrorism is a tactic that our enemies may pursue again. Terrorism can never be defeated by armies or money or science or technology. Terrorism will be tried again by someone else in another place. Terrorism will come when we least expect it; for its very strength is it's sudden shock and brutal violence.
Security, secrets, and spying, initially embraced as a necessary evil now scares us with their attendant loss of freedoms. No one wants to lose all their privacy in order to feel safe. Now the tools of a war on terrorism scare us more than the terrorism itself does.
If high levels of security are maintained, the very institutions that protect us put privacy and freedom at high risk. A dystopian future of governmental control intruding too far into our private lives has begun to replace the fear of violence from angry people far away. The gradual loss of liberty has become too high a price to pay for becoming less terrified.
If we ramp down our security another attack is probable some day; perhaps sooner, perhaps later. The opportunity to surprise will present itself eventually to people of bad will.
Choking the Chicken
We can not be Chicken Little assuming the sky of terrorism is falling down up us.
Neither can we be ostriches buried with our heads in the sand.
We can no more dismantle the entire security apparatus than we leave it in place as it is. Both of these options leave us at perils we do not wish.
Which security works best that intrudes least? Can such a thing be found?
Could we stop patting down grandma at the airport?
Could we stop tracking every phone call in order to stop bad men with evil intent?
Could we pull all our troops home and watch the world from inside a bunker of safety until the next threat appears?
What ever we do next, let us not again react rashly. How questions such as these get answered will determine our children's futures.