Waiting for the Other Shoe

On the 8th anniversary of 9/11, Slate dives into some theories as to why we haven’t been attacked again since then. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, every expert that could get in front of a microphone was predicting that it was only the beginning, that it was only a matter of time until we here attacked again. Slate presents some decent ideas as to why: the terrorists were extremely lucky to have pulled off such a convoluted scheme and simply don’t have the wherewithal to do it again; they don’t need to attack us here when they have so many other targets in Iraq and Afghanistan; and some really intricate theory involving the space/time continuum and the frequency of terrorist attacks. It’s interesting stuff, but I think it overlooks the most obvious explanation as to why they haven’t struck again.

They really don’t need to.

Our reaction to the 9/11 attacks and the tone this country has taken since then have done more to divide and disrupt this country than anything Al Qaeda could ever do. We see threats in everything. We don’t trust anybody anymore, not even our elected leaders. We fear outsiders. We’ve given up freedoms in the name of safety. We’ve squandered massive amounts of world-wide goodwill. We’ve become angry, tense, and suspicious.

That’s what terrorism does. It’s not the destruction and the loss of life, although those are terrible prices to pay. It’s the uncertainty. The loss of safety. The ripping away of the illusion of security. You only need to punch someone in the face once to get them wondering when you’re going to do it again. If Al Qaeda were to have kept attacking us repeatedly, you probably would have seen something like what happened to England during the Blitz — an eventually hardening of resolve, a gradual uniting of the people in the face of adversity. Why risk that when you can strike from nowhere and whip us into a frenzy over when you might do it again?

So the next time you think about yelling at someone who disagrees with you politically, or who worships a different god, or who speaks a different language, before you start ranting about how this politician is an idiot or that one is a communist, remember: we haven’t been attacked since 9/11 because we’re attacking ourselves just fine on our own.

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