The Contested Meaning of 9/11

Jim O'Brien

The terror attacks of September 11, 2001, have been a recurrent theme — sometimes implicit, often front and center — of U.S. politics throughout the past decade. How to interpret and understand them has been a crucial question. In the tragedy’s immediate aftermath, the George W. Bush administration struck a theme that resonated with the American public: the attacks constituted an out- of- the- blue declaration of war against an unsuspecting and entirely innocent victim, namely, the United States. “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” the president told the nation on the evening of the attacks, as he promised a “war against terrorism.”1 This initial historicizing of the 9/11 attacks soon became embedded in other official speeches and documents and in the public mind. It possessed not only a congenial explanatory power but also an enormous power to mobilize. It fueled a war in Afghanistan and subsequently, with leaps of logic, the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

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Radical History Review
Publication/Event Date: 
October, 2011