The September 11th 2001 attacks shook the United States to its core. In reaction, within two years, the American government had passed the Patriot Act and began the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, in the process, greatly changed American society, curtailing public freedoms and burdening the nation with two intractable wars. This article addresses this social change and analyses it through the lens of Social Conflict Theory. The question, how did the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11 affect American society, will guide this examination of the Cold War mentality and vertiginous approval ratings that led to the social change as well as the social change’s two primary aspects: the curbing of civil liberties and declarations of war.Credit: abcnews.com
To understand the social change brought about by the American government following 9/11 it is first necessary to understand the conditions which fostered this reaction. Even before 9/11, the mentality of the Bush administration could be likened to that of the Cold Warriors, except these 21st century Cold Warriors lacked a war but sought an enemy (Johnson, 2007). They were on the lookout for opportunities to expand American influence, particularly in the Middle East with its vast oil fields (Johnson, 2007). With 9/11, the Administration quickly recognised that it had its casus belli; it was time to curb freedoms at home while using the seemingly invincible American military to both crush the terrorist threat abroad and install favourable regimes in the Middle East (Holmes, 2007 as cited in Johnson 2007). A commensurate surge in Bush approval ratings, from 51% on September 10th to 90% on September 21st, that accompanied the panicked aftermath of 9/11 hugely facilitated the signing the Patriot Act into law of and the Invasion of Afghanistan (Thornassie, & Cooper, & Hatch , & Carey, & Rosenstein, & Coddington, 2008). These two elements of the Administration’s reaction, along with the Invasion of Iraq, would bring about widespread social change in the United States.
The Patriot Act, or USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), was signed into law on 26 October 2001 (Uniting and strengthening, 2001). The Patriot Act was designed to protect America from terrorism, the definition of which was expanded to include domestic terrorism; by greatly increasing the power of the government’s to monitor and investigate its citizens (Uniting and strengthening, 2001). This significant decrease in the right to privacy of every American was and still is highly controversial. Much of the controversy centers on the lack of debate surrounding the introduction of the Patriot Act, elements of which had been proposed and criticised previous to 9/11 (USA patriot act, 2012).
The Bush administration acted opportunistically, pushing the bill through Congress and the House with great haste in the wake of 9/11, allowing for virtually no alterations (USA patriot act, 2012). In addition, many groups, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, assert that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional in that it is in possible violation of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution (which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures) by allowing the interception of private communications (USA patriot act, 2012). Despite the ever diminishing threat of terrorist attacks on American soil, the Patriot Act has not been repealed to this day (Kurzman, & Schanzer, & Moosa 2011).
The Invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001, a mere 26 days after September 11th, and ongoing War in Afghanistan together with the War in Iraq between 20 March 2003 and 18 December 2011 were two other major sources of social change in America. It is crucial to note that despite the post 9/11 sympathy towards the United States of almost the entire Muslim world (even the Taliban were shocked), the Bush administration marched to war (Jenkins, & Powell, 2011). The Invasion of Afghanistan was an immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction which allowed for little long term planning (Costs of war, 2011). The objective of the invasion was to both destroy Al-Qaeda and to remove the country’s Taliban leadership, thereby ending Al-Qaeda’s use of Afghanistan as a base (Jenkins, & Powell, 2011).
Though the Invasion of Iraq cannot be considered a direct reaction to 9/11, the declaration of war was facilitated by the existing conflict in Afghanistan and by Bush’s continued high approval rating of 58% (Thornassie et al., 2008). The official rationale for the invasion was a lie created by the American and British governments: Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (Van der Heide, 2013). Operating behind the scenes was the influence of both the oil industry and the military industrial complex (Claes, 2005).
Together these two long wars have killed and wounded over 42,000 American soldiers; another 750,000 soldiers have had disability claims approved (Costs of war, 2011). In addition, the United States economy has been burdened with costs of 4 trillion dollars, a debt that has caused significant job loss and interest rate increases (Costs of war, 2011). Lastly, years of warfare have only exacerbated the discrimination, and even hatred, of Muslim Americans that the September 11th attacks initially created in American society, to say nothing of condemning trust and confidence in the government in general (Kurzman, et al., 2011).
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