Tag: September 11

What We’re All Missing in the “Zero Dark Thirty” Debate

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he is a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia

I appreciated Jeffrey Stacey’s recent post on the debate over “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s useful to point out what is being obscured by the criticism of the movie’s depiction of torture. But I think his piece missed a broader aspect of the movie, as well as director Katherine Bigelow’s other war, “The Hurt Locker” (which focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq): what it reveals about the civilian-military divide in the United States.

Many critics have praised Bigelow’s work for its artistic value, and its significance for understanding the post-9/11 era. Much of this has to do with her filmmaking skills. But a good amount of praise focused on her ability to faithfully tell the story of contemporary military activities. In The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday exclaims that Bigelow demonstrates early in the film that “she will not turn away from the most unsavory aspects of the history she’s chronicling.” The New York TimesManohla Dargis discusses the movie as “a seamless weave of truth and drama.” Similarly, many praised “The Hurt Locker” for its “authenticity.”

At the same time, many critiques of these movies focus on their lack of authenticity. By now, we are all familiar with the attacks on “Zero Dark Thirty” for misrepresenting the role torture played in the hunt for bin Ladin. But similar attacks arose after “The Hurt Locker” came out. The film was full of inaccuracies in its depiction of EOD teams, resulting in the head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calling it “disrespectful.”

Now, I realize the obvious response is: “it’s a movie.” That’s correct, but if the biggest selling point of a movie—or two—is their faithfulness to reality, and they get that wrong, then we’re all missing something, right? No one worries about inaccuracies in “Apocalypse Now” because of, well, Marlon Brando. But we should worry about inaccuracies in Bigelow’s war movies.

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“Zero Dark Thirty” Debate Needs an Interrogation

special ops

Anyone who did not see “Zero Dark Thirty” on its opening night was smart, as it was mayhem in theaters everywhere.  The film shot to #1 at the box office overnight and is there still, for the plain and simple reason that it’s a must see (no spoiler alert here because we all know at least a little about eliminating Osama bin Laden).  Zero Dark features a razor sharp screenplay by Mark Boal, top form directing by Kathryn Bigelow, and higher than high stakes drama from start to finish.

This film, however, is sufficiently controversial that there may soon be Congressional hearings about it–Sen. John McCain and Sen. Diane Feinstein had it in their sites by day one.  The charge is that Bigelow and Boal depict torture in a manner that glorifies it, by way of a plot that allegedly portrays the U.S. government/military eliminating OBL only via intelligence gleaned from full on, no holds barred torture.  In my view they are innocent of this charge.  The raging debate over the film is misdirected and could do better to be debating this country’s torture legacy rather than a film that deserves serious consideration for a best picture Oscar.

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Repost: a Personal History of 9/11

Image from:
 https://hub.pastbook.com/en/book/instagram/earth/tag/september11

Our memories of “big events” are generally collective in character. Their status as such manifests in a number of ways, but an important one is that their cognitive traces and triggers become intertwined with representations — images, narratives, and so forth — found in local and mass culture.

This applies to macro-collective events, such as election nights, massacres, assassinations, terrorist attacks, and sporting championships. It also operates in the context of localized happenings. Our recall of them — of, for example, the birth of children, the death of loved ones, and marriage proposals — owe a great deal to both the testimonies of others involved and to the accounts of similar events circulating in mass culture. 
In that spirt, I link to my own narrative of September 11, 2001. For one altogether more interesting, see Barry Ritholtz (via). In favor of forgetting, see “El Snarkistani.”
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Tuesday Morning Counterfactual: No 9/11 Attacks

This is an open thread to discuss what the world of 2012 would look like absent the 9/11 attacks. The counterfactual proposes that they never happened, not that the US government thwarted them.

In general, I think the world is a better place. A lot of people who are now dead — in, for example, New York, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq — remain alive. A viable peace process might be underway in Israel-Palestine. The US international position is more secure. I am uncertain as to the strength of transnational jihadism. Core Al-Queda is in better shape, but its offshoots might not be making progress in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The militant jihadist imaginary is smaller.

Of course, the US might suffer another, different attack. The timing and sequence of events matter a great deal for what would happen next.

Do you agree? Does Gore defeated Bush in 2004 in a close election fought on economic and social issues? Does Gore become a one-term president after the 2008 financial crisis? Does the Bush Administration still invade Iraq? Does President Romney implement a weak cap-and-trade carbon scheme and an individual-mandate based health-care system during the 2009-2010 period? Does international jihadism step up operations in the North Caucuses?

So many possibilities….

UPDATE: I posted a longer piece on this subject last year. Rather than merely provide the link, I’ve decided to repost it below the fold. If the above isn’t enough to spark discussion, perhaps my views in 2011 will be. The post makes clear to me how undecided I am about whether or not Bush wins in 2004 without 9/11.

Counterfactual theses:

  • Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, the US would not have invaded Afghanistan but might very well  have used force against Iraq. Rationale: despite the Bush campaign’s repeated condemnation of “nation-building” and calls for a more “humble” foreign policy (remember that?), Cheney and others were already singling out Iraq as a policy failure of the Clinton administration.
  • Absent 9/11 Bush would not have been a one-term president, but the 2002 midterm results would have been much more favorable to the Democrats. Rationale: the 2001 slump would largely have been over; I suspect the closeness of the campaign was, in part, a consequence of increasing polarization over his foreign policy. On the other hand, without the “existential threat” card, the Republicans would have faced significant problems in 2002.
  • Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, attention would have shifted much more quickly toward the implications of Chinese economic growth. Rationale: there were signs of trouble in the relationship prior to 9/11 (Hainan Island). US foreign policy after 9/11 gave the relationship “breathing space” as the US turned toward the jihadi threat (itself a security risk for China) — and generally created a favorable environment for China by angering so many other states. On the other hand, absent 9/11 the US would not be in Central Asia — and thus we that region would not be a possible future flashpoint. Note: I am not suggesting that Sino-US relations would have been deeply fraught. I am suggesting that they would have been a much more important theme of Bush’s presidency than it became.
  • Absent 9/11 the Bush Administration would have much more seriously contemplated force against Iran and/or North Korea. Rationale: Iraq and Afghanistan made serious force projection anywhere else difficult, and undermined of the US to build a coalition in favor of other military action.

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Baseball and American Foreign Policy

Not long ago, Robert Elias, a Professor of Politics at University of San Francisco (and editor of Peace Review), published The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy & Promoted the American Way Abroad (The New Press, 2010). Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to obtain a copy of the book — or read it. However, thanks to my SABR membership, I learned this week of his related article “Baseball and American Foreign Policy,” which came out in Transatlantica in 2011 (but was just published on-line this month).

As both a baseball fan and an academic who has taught a course on “Globalization (And Baseball),” I am certainly interested in the thesis Elias develops:

In America’s efforts to expand its frontiers, it soon looked overseas. Baseball was enlisted in America’s imperial quests and it helped colonize other lands, from the Caribbean to Asia to the Pacific. The game was regularly part of U.S. “civilizing missions” launched abroad, either militarily or economically, and sometimes bolstered by the forces of “muscular Christianity.” Baseball was used to sell and export the American way. It took its place in the globalization of the world, even if Americanization was more so the objective. In America’s foreign diplomacy, baseball was often regarded as the nation’s “moral equivalent of war.” And at home, baseball was used to promote patriotism and nationalism.

In the article, for example, Elias reviews the role baseball has played in America’s various wars and military interventions. Generally, in fact, Elias argues that baseball has long “promoted nationalism and patriotism, and closely associated itself with American militarism.”
Specifically, he argues that organized baseball played an important role in overcoming the Vietnam syndrome by helping to promote jingoism during the first Persian Gulf War. This fall 2001 video may help explain the author’s point in the context of September 11:

Elias claims that Bush “later reported the pitch as the highlight of his presidency.” In the text, of course, Elias makes a much richer argument about the interplay between baseball and post-9/11 America:

After the terrorist attacks, [Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig ordered all baseball games postponed. Yet he also invoked [Franklin] Roosevelt’s “green light” for baseball, claiming the sport was too central to the national fabric to stop the games completely. Instead, MLB embraced the flag and led the call to “support the troops.” Having the games soon proceed indicated, symbolically, that America was functioning and would be fighting back…

Virtually every major league ballpark was awash with patriotic gestures. Moments of silence were religiously observed, and patriotic music punctuated games. Fields and stands were blanketed with red, white and blue. Silent auctions were held and benefit games were played for the Red Cross. Players wore caps honoring New York’s police, firefighters and emergency crews, and visited shelters and fire houses. Fans held candles, prayed and sang, and chanted “USA! USA!” Yankee Stadium held a memorial service, Mets players raised money for the Twin Towers Relief Fund, and Diamondback players visited “ground zero.” The terrorist attacks immediately politicized baseball. President Bush “used baseball as a major patriotic statement” at the World Series and elsewhere. Maverick Media, the President’s image maker, later repackaged footage from Bush’s baseball appearances, playing them repeatedly during his reelection campaign.

Much of the rest of the article discusses the role baseball played in other dimensions of American foreign policy — espionage, diplomacy, globalization, etc. He also devotes some attention to the way baseball has dealt with dissent.

Référence électronique
Robert Elias, « Baseball and American Foreign Policy », Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2011, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2012, Consulté le 16 juin 2012. URL : https://transatlantica.revues.org/5478.

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Ten Theses (Mostly Concerning Foreign Policy) About 9/11

Counterfactual theses:

  • Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, the US would not have invaded Afghanistan but might very well  have used force against Iraq. Rationale: despite the Bush campaign’s repeated condemnation of “nation-building” and calls for a more “humble” foreign policy (remember that?), Cheney and others were already singling out Iraq as a policy failure of the Clinton administration.
  • Absent 9/11 Bush would not have been a one-term president, but the 2002 midterm results would have been much more favorable to the Democrats. Rationale: the 2001 slump would largely have been over; I suspect the closeness of the campaign was, in part, a consequence of increasing polarization over his foreign policy. On the other hand, without the “existential threat” card, the Republicans would have faced significant problems in 2002.
  • Absent 9/11 or a 9/11-style attack, attention would have shifted much more quickly toward the implications of Chinese economic growth. Rationale: there were signs of trouble in the relationship prior to 9/11 (Hainan Island). US foreign policy after 9/11 gave the relationship “breathing space” as the US turned toward the jihadi threat (itself a security risk for China) — and generally created a favorable environment for China by angering so many other states. On the other hand, absent 9/11 the US would not be in Central Asia — and thus we that region would not be a possible future flashpoint. Note: I am not suggesting that Sino-US relations would have been deeply fraught. I am suggesting that they would have been a much more important theme of Bush’s presidency than it became.
  • Absent 9/11 the Bush Administration would have much more seriously contemplated force against Iran and/or North Korea. Rationale: Iraq and Afghanistan made serious force projection anywhere else difficult, and undermined of the US to build a coalition in favor of other military action.

Even more speculative theses:

  • Would the sub-prime mortgage landing have been softer? Rationale: absent 9/11 the Fed might have been less averse to raising interest rates to slow the housing bubble.
  • Would US-Latin American relations been much more problematic? Rationale: the focus on the “global war on terror” distracted the US from turning Venezuela President Hugo Chavez — and his neo-Bolivarist movement — into a bigger boogeyman. 

Forward-looking theses:

  • Terrorism against US citizens and interests will continue, but decline in significance to the general policymaking community. Rationale: a laserlike focus on terrorism amounts to something of a luxury good made possible by an absence of possible peer-competitors. The “Obama Formula” (use the phrase with caution) of heavy emphasis on covert ops, intelligence, drone strikes, and interdiction is likely to continue to be reasonably successful; it also, like other “shadow wars,” has taken on a life of its own.
  • Great-Power Politics are Returning. Rationale: a continuation of the above — the decline of the US is much less dire than many alarmists believe, but its relative decline will prove sufficient to end unipolar politics in the coming decades. Future power politics, however, will more resemble wars of position and maneuver than “hot wars.”
  • We haven’t seen the peak of Islamophobia. Rationale: ongoing economic pain, in conjunction with growing transnational ties among right-wing anti-Muslims, will sustain and feed one of the uglier dimensions of contemporary western politics. Events in the greater Middle East, such as participation in the democratic process by Islamist groups, won’t help either. 
  • The international community’s headaches from Pakistan will get worse. Rationale: policy options aren’t great, and sufficient doggedness in their pursuit is unlikely; key actors in the country remain “just fine” with patchwork effective sovereignty, instability, and poor economic performance; Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

I’ve left out anything concerning the future of Iraq and Afghanistan. I invite readers to weigh in with speculation on these, or any other, 9/11-related issues.

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Repost: September 11 – a blogging personal history

I wasn’t going to post this (again), but the thread below is starting to turn toward reminiscence; a cut-and-paste job seems easier than rewriting.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I drove my wife to the Nanuet train station. We said goodbye and she got on the train to begin her commute into Manhattan. I went home and took a shower.

Sometime later that morning I went downstairs to the basement of our townhouse, which doubled as my office. I started working on one of my projects. I can’t recall whether I was revising chapters of my dissertation or working on an article-length project. Although I almost never watched television in the morning, I decided to turn on the morning news and let it run as background noise. My wife often remarked to me that she found the Fox morning show amusing, so I put on channel five.

It didn’t take long for an announcer to report, with an incredulous tone, that a “small plane” had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I thought that this news sounded odd, but didn’t pay it much attention.

I was, in fact, working hard to prepare for my temporary move to Stanford University. About two weeks before I had gone to the American Political Science Association annual convention in San Francisco and brought a bunch of clothes and books in preparation for my time at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. I was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of leaving New York, and my wife, for a year. I suggested to her that maybe I ought to fly out early, but she wanted me to stay as long as possible. I booked a ticket on United Flight 93 for the end of September

I did notice when the channel suddenly cut out and the television blared the unpleasant sound of static. I assumed our cable was down again. I turned off the set and went back to work.

My wife soon called me. “Turn on the television,” she said, “something bad is happening at the World Trade Center.”

The rest of the day proved a confusing mix of watching television, talking to my wife and to my mother, and generally wandering around the house. People at my wife’s office were in a state of shock. One of her co-workers thought that she had a friend who was supposed to leave on Flight 93 — but he turned out to be on another flight. My father was evacuated from his office; he worked, at the time, in the Hart Building.
My wife soon made the trek, along with thousands of others, from her midtown office to uptown Manhattan. Her stories of kindness and community deserve their own blog post. She stayed overnight with some friends of ours who still lived up by Columbia.

I went out into the courtyard of our development and talked to our neighbors. Some worried about friends in the towers. Others about the firefighters and police officers based in Rockland County.

At some point in the evening, I drove my car towards one of the local hospitals in an effort to “do something” by giving blood. I called the hospital, but the operator told me not to bother. No one knew what they would need and it would be better to wait until the next day.

I went home and called a friend from graduate school. We talked for a while about the strong emotional pull of “revenge” (to “bomb the hell out of the them”). I went to bed.

I awoke the next morning and checked my email. At 6:50 am Charles Tilly had begun an exchange on the topic, posted to the AMSOC listserv, which would eventually get him blacklisted (temporary) by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group nominally headed by Lynn Cheney and Joe Lieberman.

The next day I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge. This was the first time I got a clear view of the smoke rising over lower Manhattan and, from there, across the Hudson River. It was a terrible, heart-wrenching sight. I picked up my wife in Westchester, and we went home together.

Over the next week we attended a vigil in West Nyack, and like many other New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and Americans, went about our lives in a haze of shock and sorrow.

Never again did I felt a stronger sense of myself as a New Yorker. I remember when we attended, much later, a playoff game between the Yankees and Oakland, how the sense of collective effervescence–always so strong at important baseball games–still had a different and more intense flavor. The scene on the bridge in Sam Raimi’s Spider Man, as hokey and ham-handed as it is, captures an essential truth about New Yorkers. As divided and contentious as they can be, they also exhibit a strong sense of community. “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”

My next clear memory is of watching Bush’s speech on 9/20. I thought it was a powerful speech, but it also left me deeply concerned. I called PTJ almost immediately afterwards. We engaged in a bit of discourse analysis. I focused on this passage:

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

“Will this be remembered as the beginning of a new imperium?” I asked. “Either you clean up your act or we’ll send the legions in to do it for you?”

I flew the Newark-San Francisco route at least once a month during the 2001-2002 academic year. Each time the scarred landscape of Lower Manhattan grew a little less bleak, the changed skyline a bit more familiar. Events lose their presence and shift into the stream of history. Or they do, at least, for we voyeurs who feel a close, but not quite intimate, connection to tragedy.

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September 11, 2001

I know it is a little late, but having looked at some other bloggers’ “September 11” posts, I thought I should repost the one I wrote two years ago.

September 11 – a blogging personal history

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I drove my wife to the Nanuet train station. We said goodbye and she got on the train to begin her commute into Manhattan. I went home and took a shower.

Sometime later that morning I went downstairs to the basement of our townhouse, which doubled as my office. I started working on one of my projects. I can’t recall whether I was revising chapters of my dissertation or working on an article-length project. Although I almost never watched television in the morning, I decided to turn on the morning news and let it run as background noise. My wife often remarked to me that she found the Fox morning show amusing, so I put on channel five.

It didn’t take long for an announcer to report, with an incredulous tone, that a “small plane” had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I thought that this news sounded odd, but didn’t pay it much attention.

I was, in fact, working hard to prepare for my temporary move to Stanford University. About two weeks before I had gone to the American Political Science Association annual convention in San Francisco and brought a bunch of clothes and books in preparation for my time at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. I was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of leaving New York, and my wife, for a year. I suggested to her that maybe I ought to fly out early, but she wanted me to stay as long as possible. I booked a ticket on United Flight 93 for the end of September.

I did notice when the channel suddenly cut out and the television blared the unpleasant sound of static. I assumed our cable was down again. I turned off the set and went back to work.

My wife soon called me. “Turn on the television,” she said, “something bad is happening at the World Trade Center.”

The rest of the day proved a confusing mix of watching television, talking to my wife and to my mother, and generally wandering around the house. People at my wife’s office were in a state of shock. One of her co-workers thought that she had a friend who was supposed to leave on Flight 93 — but he turned out to be on another flight. My father was evacuated from his office; he worked, at the time, in the Hart Building.

My wife soon made the trek, along with thousands of others, from her midtown office to uptown Manhattan. Her stories of kindness and community deserve their own blog post. She stayed overnight with some friends of ours who still lived up by Columbia.

I went out into the courtyard of our development and talked to our neighbors. Some worried about friends in the towers. Others about the firefighters and police officers based in Rockland County.

At some point in the evening, I drove my car towards one of the local hospitals in an effort to “do something” by giving blood. I called the hospital, but the operator told me not to bother. No one knew what they would need and it would be better to wait until the next day.

I went home and called a friend from graduate school. We talked for a while about the strong emotional pull of “revenge” (to “bomb the hell out of the them”). I went to bed.

I awoke the next morning and checked my email. At 6:50 am Charles Tilly had begun an exchange on the topic, posted to the AMSOC listserv, which would eventually get him blacklisted (temporary) by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group nominally headed by Lynn Cheney and Joe Lieberman.

The next day I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge. This was the first time I got a clear view of the smoke rising over lower Manhattan and, from there, across the Hudson River. It was a terrible, heart-wrenching sight. I picked up my wife in Westchester, and we went home together.

Over the next week we attended a vigil in West Nyack, and like many other New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and Americans, went about our lives in a haze of shock and sorrow.

Never again did I felt a stronger sense of myself as a New Yorker. I remember when we attended, much later, a playoff game between the Yankees and Oakland, how the sense of collective effervescence–always so strong at important baseball games–still had a different and more intense flavor. The scene on the bridge in Sam Raimi’s Spider Man, as hokey and ham-handed as it is, captures an essential truth about New Yorkers. As divided and contentious as they can be, they also exhibit a strong sense of community. “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”

My next clear memory is of watching Bush’s speech on 9/20. I thought it was a powerful speech, but it also left me deeply concerned. I called Patrick Jackson almost immediately afterwards. We engaged in a bit of discourse analysis. I focused on this passage:

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

“Will this be remembered as the beginning of a new imperium?” I asked. “Either you clean up your act or we’ll send the legions in to do it for you?”

I flew the Newark-San Francisco route at least once a month during the 2001-2002 academic year. Each time the scarred landscape of Lower Manhattan grew a little less bleak, the changed skyline a bit more familiar. Events lose their presence and shift into the stream of history. Or they do, at least, for we voyeurs who feel a close, but not quite intimate, connection to tragedy.

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