I still remember where I was 10 years ago today. I was working as an intern at Tandberg TV for one year, and as usual just browsing the internet bored (I was never born to be a test engineer!) when I noticed the desks around me had emptied and the office was all quiet. I carried on for a couple of hours, before leaving my desk to find out where everyone had gone. Being a digital TV equipment manufacturer, we had labs full of rows and rows of encoding equipment and TVs, so when I finally found where everyone was (in the main lab) I didn’t just walk in on one TV showing the world trade tower burning, but about 20, all showing the same image. It was surreal, and sad, and we spent the rest of the day glued watching the events unfold in the office before finally going home.
However, beyond the sadness and thought for all the people who died that day, I think there was a bigger tragedy that came out of 9/11. It forced America to become even more conservative, more insular, and do things on the world stage that probably created more hatred for them, and more terrorists to fight. In many ways the terrorists won, they forced the US on the back foot.
Now instead of America welcoming people and ideas from around the world like they had for so many years, giving them a distinct advantage over many countries, they’ve practically closed their borders. Sure you can still go there, but its a lot harder now, even me as a British citizen needs to pay now to get a visa to go there now – no more just filling out a landing card on my way there. I always though the US was like getting into a bad nightclub, they put bouncers at the door that make people queue and beg to get in, and when you’re finally in, its good, but its not that good and you question why you couldn’t just go down the road to the other nightclub (Canada?) where they are far more welcoming and are just as good and don’t make you feel like you have to prove yourself to get in. That was before 9/11, now its worse.
Secondly, 9/11 gave the conservatives like Bush the green light to do things around the world that have made people dislike the US even more. Invading Iraq, essentially screwing up the Middle East, the rise of ultra-conservatives like John Bolton (who apparently is thinking of running for President??!) who effectively go out into the world with an us or them attitude, where America has the right to do what it wants under the impression of protecting America, when its clear this has been abused to protect America’s political and oil interests around the world. These severely wrong attitudes are what make people hate America, and 9/11 gave the worst types of people a ticket to treat the rest of the world as a threat and not as a partner. Worst of all, American went from inspiring the world with the American dream to losing its respect and trust.
Thirdly, 9/11 forced America to stop concentrating on things that are really important to America and the rest of the world. Global Warming seems to have been almost forgotten about as we fight the ‘war on terror’. I’ve always said no one is better placed to lead the solution to this problem than America, yet its focus has been more on fighting Al Qaeda than really tackling this. I also wonder if the Credit Crunch would have been so bad if America focused more on the right things and had been able to spot and address the issues in the banking system sooner. The trillion dollar war in Iraq definitely didn’t help American address the Credit Crunch from a position of strength.
And unfortunately its all of these that are leading to the greatest shift of power from the West to the rest (the BRIC countries) and could ultimately lead the US to become a secondary player on the world stage in the next 50 years. For me, this is the real tragedy, that America has become so insular, so focused on the wrong things and its empowered the ultra conservatives in the US to get into power and push their agendas on the rest of the world. For me the last 10 years have been a decline of the US, but it doesn’t have to be this way.