There are certainly problems with conceptualizing history through divisions of time based on catastrophic or traumatic national events, such as often happens in discussions of the attacks of 9/11. Many at the time, including scholars, felt as though 9/11 had happened "out of the blue" (Versluys), but the events had origins in American foreign policy and events long brewing largely outside of public attention. The video clip above helps to establish a sense of the history that led up to the attacks of 9/11, even if it glosses over some important details, such as America’s level of involvement in these events. For instance, during the Soviet War in Afghanistan (1979-89), a Cold War proxy war, the CIA was one of the primary financial backers that helped arm the Afghan Mujahideen in their efforts to oppose Soviet forces in their country, only to withdraw this support in the early 1990s. This mujahideen would later, in part, become al-Qaeda, the organization who would claim responsibility for organizing the attacks on September 11, 2001.
For the most part, as Judith Butler laments, the attacks of 9/11 did not draw the American imaginary toward international concerns to become a “part of a global community” (xi), but instead brought about a traumatic concern with domesticity (Duvall and Marzec 384), recreating the myth of American exceptionalism from the Virgin Land that was ideologically unable to adapt to life after the attacks and the subsequent imposition of the Homeland Security State (Pease 155-168), one that better justifies state of emergency acts, such as invasive security measures in America and “violation[s] of individual privacy rights” (Takacs). This domestic turn inward urged the nation to intensify its contemplation on itself, and events like the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and a spiking increase in Islamophobia within our nation began to turn a critical eye on our own long-standing civil rights issues. While this inward turn in response to 9/11 may have cut America off from an opportunity to become a more involved and cooperative member of the international community, it did result in foregrounding real issues at home, such as the racial inequality now opposed by movements like Black Lives Matter, sexual harassment and assault now countered by the Me Too Movement, and the deep currents of white supremacy running through American culture that made headlines after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. In short, 9/11 was not an isolated and mysterious event, but one that exists among a continuum of historic events that have had a series of often unforeseen or unintended consequences both progressive and oppressive that still affect American culture and the world today.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, 2004.
Duvall, John and Robert P. Marzec. “Narrating 9/11.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, Fall 2011, pp. 381-400. Project Muse, doi:10.1353/mfs.2011.0069.
Pease, Donald E. The New American Exceptionalism. U of Minnesota P, 2009.
Takacs, Stacy. “Monsters, Monsters Everywhere: Spooky TV and the Politics of Fear in Post-9/11 America.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, March 2009, www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/107/takacs107.htm.
Versluys, Kristiaan. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. Columbia UP, 2009.