How did 9/11 reshape America’s identity?
Table of Contents
While the United States has experienced a number of substantial and tragic events in its relatively short history, perhaps no event in recent decades had such a terrible incident as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Of course, these attacks involved two planes hi-jacked by Al-Qaeda operatives that smashed into both World Trade Center towers in New York, not only bringing the towers to the ground, but also killing 2,977 people in the process. A third plane hit the Pentagon, and a fourth would have hit another major building, except for the passengers overtaking the hijackers, but dying in the process when the plane crashed in an empty field. The event marked the deadliest terrorist attack on United States soil, a country that for much of its existence had been able to avoid such domestic dangers. Of course, the monumental nature of this attack had a correspondingly monumental impact on shaping America’s national identity. The present research examines the ways that 9/11 reshaped America’s identity and proposes that the country remain vigilant in response to jingoistic rhetoric and policies.
Cultural Identity Changes
Undoubtedly, among the major ways that the United States cultural identity has been reshaped has been in its even more increased fearfulness and precaution. Of course, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the United States established the Department of Homeland Security as a means of developing comprehensive initiatives to protect the country from future terrorist attacks (Green). While the development of this agency constitutes a tangible change that took place in the post-9/11 aftermath, the true cultural shift in the country’s identity has been in relation to the many security implementations that have been instituted by this agency and the country’s tacit acceptance of their need. Similar to a person who was mugged who will now never leave the house alone, the new American cultural identity has come to accept that belts and water bottles will need to be removed before boarding airplanes, and that in some high risks terrorist areas, personal belongings will needed to be inspected.
In addition to this reshaping of the America’s identity, the country has also entered into a level of increased paranoia, both by its government and by the people against the government. Such paranoia was immediately recognized in the period following 9/11 as conspiracy groups emerged that claimed that the United States government itself had contributed to the buildings falling down. While nobody but the most extreme would believe such claims, they attest to parts of the country being so shaken by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that they have grown to even distrust the government’s actions in perpetrating them. An even more powerful example of this cultural identity shift is Edward Snowden’s release of thousands of classified government documents in 2013 (Greenwald). The events surrounding Snowden’s release of this documents attests to both the United States increased fearfulness of its citizens, as well as the American public’s complex relationship with such intrusions of privacy. The implications of these above changes on the country’s cultural identity is one that has resulted in increased mistrust both of its people and by its people against its foundational institutions.
Yet another cultural shift that has taken place in the country’s national identity has been in respect to foreigners. While throughout much of its history, the United States has been known as the melting pot of the world, in recent years this reputation has undergone a substantial change. Stephen Miller, a Senior advisor to President Trump, made a point to indicate that the poem on the Statue of Liberty that states, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was actually added after the statue of brought to the country and because of this should not be viewed as having the same relevance (Vargas). Miller’s historical claim was accurate, and the fact that he has a national podium to voice such views speaks to the cultural shift that has occurred in American life away from a country that sought to build itself from outsiders seeking better opportunities to one that is now increasingly looking inward.
America’s Negative Cultural Change and How to Fix it
While few could fault American for its increased vigilance since 9/11, in recent years, particularly with the election of Donald Trump, the country’s identity has taken a negative shift. Of course, throughout the election cycle Trump exhibited outward bigotry towards foreigners, and excited many Americans through claims that he would build a wall along the country’s Southern border. This is an approach that has taken advantage of American’s fearfulness in post-9/11 America, with some pointing out that it relies on “oversimplification and governing-by-headlines” (Brill). While Mexican immigration and terrorist infiltration appear to be disparate concepts, his talk of building a wall and the rhetoric surrounding his reasoning appears in part to have been facilitated by increased American resistance to foreign influence as a result of events like 9/11.
Even more telling was the travel ban that Trump instituted in the period immediately following the election. This travel ban suddenly restricted people from a series of seven countries identified as terrorist threats from entering the nation. Although this ban was in large part later struck down by Federal Courts, its sudden implementation and the national support it received from some pockets of the country attested to a nation that was not merely vigilant about protecting its borders, but rather a nation that had been reshaped to be bitter and resentful of any foreign influence. The negative aspects of this cultural identity shift have also occurred in smaller ways throughout the country, such as when Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim student, was arrested for building a clock. In this instance, the school demonstrated a complete lack of cultural understanding and a rush to judgment that was more indicative of what one would expect out of Selma, Alabama in the 1960s than a nation that has achieved significant social progress in recent decades.
Of course, many people will argue that America’s national identity is fine, and that the increased foreign and security vigilance is not a product of bigotry, but rather the necessary caution that needs to be exhibited in the post-9/11 world. However, while safety measures are important for the country to adopt and maintain, the rhetoric and political actions that have characterized the United States recently that seem to be in-part a byproduct of the aftermath of September 11th are not grounded in empirical facts or legitimate policy. In fact, the Federal court system has repeatedly struck down Trump’s efforts to institute a travel ban based because the administration has failed to provide any convincing evidence that attests to a legitimate safety concern being met by its implementation (Zapotosky). Because of this, this aspects of America’s cultural identity clearly constitutes a form of American spite that is more appropriate of a child than the world’s economic superpower.
As a means of rectifying these negative aspects of America’s post-war cultural identity change, it’s necessary that American citizens, particularly thought leaders and teachers throughout the country, remain vigilant in condemning the forms of jingoistic rhetoric that have become all too commonplace. While one would not argue that the nation should limit its freedom of speech and expression, by condemning foreigners and adopting strict nationalist policies, the country is not engaging in productive behavior, but instead allowing past-grudges and faulty reasoning to distort the substantial benefits in terms of innovation and job creation that are provided by people from all countries. Although Donald Trump was able to capitalize on this national resentment in the short-term, through continued vigilance among all American citizens to ensure that such unproductive rhetoric is discouraged, in the long-term America will be able to reclaim its national identity as not only an economic leader, but also as a moral beacon of truth.
In conclusion, the present essay has examined the ways that America’s cultural identity was reshaped by 9/11. Within this spectrum of investigation, the research has argued that 9/11 has resulted in America becoming more accepting of security measures, more paranoid, and more inward looking. While some of these changes are a necessary product of 21st century life, the country’s recent shift towards extreme nationalism should be rectified through challenging ideas about the negative influence of foreigners, and recognizing the power of diversity.
- Brill, Steven. “15 Years After 9/11, Is America Any Safer?.” The Atlantic, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/09/are-we-any-safer/492761/.
- Green, Matthew. “How 9/11 Changed America: Four Major Lasting Impacts (With Lesson Plan).” The Lowdown, 2017, https://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2017/09/08/13-years-later-four-major-lasting-impacts-of-911/.
- Greenwald, Glenn. “Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind The NSA Surveillance Revelations.” The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance.
- Vargas, Theresa. “Trump Adviser Stephen Miller Was Right About The Statue Of Liberty’S Famous Inscription.” Washington Post, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/08/02/a-trump-adviser-was-right-about-the-history-of-the-statue-of-libertys-famous-inscription/?utm_term=.291c428e1a40.
- Zapotosky, Matt. “Federal Judge Blocks Trump’S Third Travel Ban.” Washington Post, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/federal-judge-blocks-trumps-third-travel-ban/2017/10/17/e73293fc-ae90-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?utm_term=.efb9b0b1f660.
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