By: Pub Valeris
As the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “I told you so” bug bites Dick Cheney. I hope so.
Absent the Biblical story of Jesus, in all of history, nothing compares to 9/11. For those 20-somethings who subscribe to FVA, this has to be the seminal historical moment. But it is much more than that.
There are substantially more horrific moments, and periods of time, in human history, but none occurred in the age of the internet, satellite communications, and 700 DirecTV Channels. For all the carnage of the Holocaust, most people were unaware of its shameful horror until well after the events had occurred. If you didn’t attend movie theaters in the 1940′s, you may not have ever learned of it in your lifetime.
Later, in the 1960′s and 70′s, our war in Vietnam was transmitted directly into our living rooms via television. However, the stories would often be weeks old, reliant upon the actual physical transport of “film” (Raise your hand if you know what “film” is?) from Southeast Asia via boat or plane to the news desks in New York. It would then be sanitized and edited subject to the more conservative values of the network censors (if not the population) of the late 1960′s and early 70′s
But 9/11 transmitted the horror in real time, directly to your living room. And America has never been the same. The nature of our media has changed as well as our popular cultural. The 24-hour news channel has become pre-eminent in our nightly entertainment consumption. Popular television for most of the decade was rather dark, hopeless, and a reflection of the ensuing War on Terror. Critically acclaimed and highly rated for most of the past decade were 24 and Battlestar Galactica, both of whom took their story development directly from the post-9/11 American experience. (Showtime’s Sleeper Cell was often referred to as the thinking-man’s 24, but its ratings suggested no one was watching long enough to tell the difference).
In the case of 24, Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer would face a different Muslim bad guy each season, intent on doing grave harm to the United States. Once and awhile a different bad guy would emerge – once it was the Russians, then the President himself, but ultimately, all roads led to the Middle East. His undercover work would successfully prevent the terrorist attack by season’s end, neatly fitting into 24 hours of episodic television.
What made 24 work was not just the American love affair with “good-guy-beats-bad-guy” storyline, nor the explosions and non-stop gunfire, mayhem, and torture which are staples of the American pop culture diet. In fact, what made it work for the viewers was an understated sense of realism it rarely received credit for. The theme of 24, that “…Jack Bauer always gets the terrorist” plot line often included the three dimensional nature of warfare. Meaning, it often portrayed the “loss” incurred from combat. In season one, Jack loses his wife. Season 3 included the assassination of an American counter terrorist official as well as the chopping off of Jack Bauer’s partner’s hand. Over several seasons, he loses his relationship with his daughter. By the end of it all, everyone that comes in contact with Jack seems to die. The lesson was there for everyone to see who was willing to look: there is “sacrifice” inherent in conflict, even for the victor.
Battlestar Galactica (BSG) provided even more fodder for the neo-conservative commentariat. Jonah Goldberg at National Review often used BSG as a corollary to the War on Terror. The first 2 seasons provided an easy comparison – the Colonists were sneak-attacked by the dreaded Cylons, who now even looked like the good guys, secretly living amongst them. Season 3 and 4 changed the tone, with good and evil becoming more nuanced. Unlike 24, which was a more tactical, every-man’s narrative of fighting terror, BSG dealt with the larger issues of an existential threat, human rights, detention and more.
Western civilization truly reflects our Shakespearean legacy, often turning to the arts and literature to make sense of the world around us. 24 and BSG reflected the first decade of this century in American life, as much as Happy Days did in the 1970′s or Miami Vice in the 1980′s. Looking back at popular culture can also remind us to reflect on the culture writ large. To that extent, we can see Dick Cheney has truly gotten the last word, and would be remiss if he DIDN’T say “I told you so.” Our hope and change empty suit of a President has decidedly retained the most Cheney-esque of the War on Terror policies. Consider:
- Obama promised Gitmo would be closed. It is not.
- Obama promised we would try 9/11 terrorists in civilian courts. They have not.
- Obama promised to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They haven’t yet.
- Obama promised to stop the warrantless eavesdropping, secret prisons, and all of the remaining Bush-era War on Terror architecture. To date, he has not.
While we celebrate the shooting and killing of Osama Bin Laden, as a legal target in a war against terrorists, locating and executing Bin Laden occurred over a period of time which pre-dates the Obama Presidency, and which means enhanced interrogation techniques most likely provided the beginning point of the information necessary in finding him.
In the end, while we describe the era as it relates to the Bush Presidency, the creator and most vocal supporter of the policies used to protect us over the last 10 years are one’s advocated by his Vice President, Dick Cheney. The reason I will forgive him as reminds us he was right all along, is that the country seemed to have forgotten what it was like when terrorism struck the homeland. No one wanted to fly on a plane, or take mass transit. Anthrax was being sent through the mail. Muslim shooters opened fire on civilians in DC. The list goes on, but by 2008, our general dissatisfaction with the War in Iraq, coupled with the banking crisis of 2008, led many people to ignore reasonable judgment and vote for what is quickly becoming the second coming of Jimmy Carter.
That can be the classic glass half-full, half-empty debate, because Jimmy Carter helped bring us the Reagan Revolution.
So as we recognize the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, try to remember that the policies which have kept us safe for the last 10 years have been policy prescriptions from conservatives, and your vote in 2012 would do you service, and the country service, if you remember that very important fact.
(Author’s Note: “Frak Me” in the title is a use of a pejorative used on Battlestar Galactica, which is included in this story.)