You Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!
"Post-9/11 Syndrome" Strikes Deep in the Homeland

by Stephen Wing


Are you a Christian who believes in "living by the sword"— since 9/11?

Are you a patriot who sees the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as outdated— after 9/11?

Are you a Republican who approves of ever-increasing Big Government intrusion and control— as of 9/11?

Are you a Democrat who's concerned about military security rather than job security, health security or Social Security— because of 9/11?

Are you a conservative who's all for massive federal budget deficits— at least since 9/11?

Are you a liberal who supports human rights for everyone, unless someone on TV calls them "terrorists"— after 9/11?

Are you a humanitarian who deplores the loss of innocent civilian lives, except those the government calls "enemies"— since 9/11?

Are you a loyal American who voted for a draft dodger, business failure, military bungler and front-man for corporate welfare— because he retaliated in kind for 9/11?

If any of the above describes you, you may be suffering the telltale symptoms of Post-9/11 Stress Syndrome.

It's a name I invented to explain the widespread after-effects of an unprecedented day when millions of people simultaneously suffered a life-changing, world-altering emotional shock. Somewhere, I'm sure, psychologists are studying it. But you don't have to be a doctor to see the Syndrome at work.

The effects of trauma are well known— yet another debt we owe our combat veterans. During the 20th century, as warfare grew more sophisticated and deadly, the diagnosis of "shell shock" evolved into "combat fatigue" and finally "post-traumatic stress syndrome." But what happens when this terrible side-effect of war touches not just soldiers, but a whole nation?

The first symptom is a natural desire to punish someone. But soon the Syndrome begins to infect you with the philosophy of those who attacked you. Just like Osama bin Laden, you begin to blame ordinary citizens for the actions of their government. Before you know it, you're cheering the destruction of neighborhoods full of people who had nothing to do with 9/11.

You have just lost the war on terror.

In a time of national peril, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once warned: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Here in the Home of the Brave, where few had experienced terrorism before 9/11, we're beginning to understand what he meant.

The uses of trauma, too, are well known. It's a basic military technique for everything from boot camp to brainwashing to interrogation— in the U.S. military prisons of Iraq, for example. But most people know it by the name it goes by when used by our enemies: terrorism.

As the name implies, terrorism is not primarily a weapon of violence against its immediate victims. Its deeper purpose is to inspire an ambience of fear among the survivors, a constant awareness that their turn could come next— unless they do exactly what the terrorists want.

While you are afraid, it is difficult to resist the temptation to plea-bargain with death. To save our own tender skins, it's easy to give up abstract principles that other generations have fought and died for, things like freedom of speech, of the press, of public protest.

But as Benjamin Franklin said in yet an earlier time of danger: "They who would sacrifice necessary liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In our fear— in our mortal terror— have we done exactly what the terrorists of 9/11 wanted?

Surely they would have heartily approved of the USA Patriot Act (formulated in detail long before 9/11). "They hate our freedom," the president said. Muslim extremists everywhere must have been gratified to see our freedom so rapidly and severely curtailed after the attacks.

And the hijackers would have been thrilled to know their attack would lead to the downfall of their bitter enemy Saddam Hussein, and the possibility of democracy in Iraq. Anyone can foresee that actual democracy, if ever achieved, will sooner or later replace Hussein's modern secular state with a Muslim one.

But first and foremost, the 9/11 hijackers clearly wanted to start a war: a Holy War. The U.S. obliged by invading Afghanistan. We cited Taliban-sanctioned Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan to justify it, but more Afghan civilians died in our invasion than Al-Qaeda murdered on 9/11. Afghanistan's unreconstructed condition today— controlled by warlords and opium-exporters, except for a few cities— makes it appear in hindsight a war of revenge rather than liberation.

Even worse, abandoning Afghanistan to opportunistically invade Iraq (a plan published by Bush's aides long before they took office) proves to our critics that we are the bully Al-Qaeda claims, just as vindictive and vastly more destructive.

President Bush never mentions that global oil production is due to peak by the end of this decade, which will drive up the price of everything in our oil-dependent world, turning control of Iraq's oil reserves into a gold mine— not for the U.S., but for the private interests that Bush ultimately represents. We'll all have to pay their price.

For an oilman who thinks he speaks for God, this obviously qualifies as "Holy War." Unfortunately, another oilman who thinks he speaks for God— Osama bin Laden— agrees.

In the advanced stages of Post-9/11 Stress Syndrome, you grow accustomed to being continuously terrified 24-7, and begin to uncritically accept everything you hear on the uncritically pro-government news media. You don't even notice when not just foreigners but everyone around you becomes a potential enemy— a "terrorist sympathizer." (Substitute "communist" for "terrorist" and enter a time warp to 1950.)

In addition to bombing cities without provocation, you now support routine surveillance, racial profiling, limiting the right of protest, arrests without due process, torture of prisoners . . . In search of "security," you are eager to inflict on other innocents the same trauma that has been visited upon you.

In your terror, you have become the terrorist.

Does Post-9/11 Stress Syndrome have a cure? Yes, it's called courage. It built this country, and it too is contagious. Tag— you're it!