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A Decade On

A new wave of patriotism swept an already patriotic nation. America’s new heroes, their firemen, raised a flag over ground zero in an abject copy of glories past and America followed suit. Flags emerged everywhere, “United We Stand” they bellowed, affirming to themselves as much as the rest of the world, and their leader emerged from his cave brandishing a new rhetoric dividing the world into those on America’s side, and the terrorists. In the days following the event it was a useful ideal, and prompted small acts of bravery or goodwill that defined America’s reaction. Lines of people queued up to give blood, traders on the stock exchange deliberately bought and bought high to stave off a terrorism induced crash. A nation tried to rebuild is self confidence and shake itself free of its worry and confusion. A new found seriousness led to the cancellation of sporting events and the quiet dropping of celebrity gossip pages but it could not and did not last. Sports returned emblazoned in flags and draped with patriotic figures from the armed forces and emergency services. America questioned itself, Newsweek pondered aloud “Why do they hate us?” But its answers were symptomatic of a country that didn’t know what it stood for anymore; maybe it was America’s freedom, maybe its democracy, maybe its religion. America didn’t know what it stood for so it stood for everything. The situation lent itself to sweeping statements and grand affirmations of a new age from philosophers and reporters alike. Even the most prosaic of tabloid hack became conversant in the Clash of Civilisations theory as the world tried to define a new epoch. The attacks were transmogrified into an assault on the entire history of liberal democracy by a culture ill suited to anything but violence and authoritarianism. Fukuyama was brought to account for proclaiming the End of History, as if his complacency had allowed the new threat to arise. While its people reeled from the assault on its own territory, America’s leaders plotted. This opportunity was not to be missed and a new world order was to be unleashed. A world order built on an incorrigible faith in the converting power of democracy and an absurdist, cowboy lexicon that allowed no linguistic quarter to the nuanced, the fearful or the unconvinced.

America declared war on an abstract noun, a bravura moment for a nation that had lost previous encounters with Crime and Drugs, but the War on Terror would be different, it had an immediate, defined and palpably conquerable enemy, the first of an expected many. On September 11th itself, Bush had promised there would be “no distinction between terrorists and those that harboured them”. He was true to his word and in this black and white world Afghanistan’s Taliban regime was to find itself an enemy not just of America but of the West in the form of NATO. As would become typical of American foreign policy, the War in Afghanistan lacked definition and purpose. The War on Terror was to be a war without end, and as such it could not have goals or ambitions, only targets. Afghanistan became its first target and the War on Terror would consume it whole, deleting its diplomatic history with America and revising its bloody, poisonous past. America would become the War on Terror. What it wanted, what it needed was what America wanted and needed. It became more important that freedom, democracy, religion or any of the other proposed complaints of America’s enemies. Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance were once criminals, warlords, and murderers but became friends and allies as the battle for liberty and democracy took immediate comfort in the arms of some of its fiercest abusers.

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