The first part of this article discussed how, within two years of 9/11, the American government had passed the Patriot Act and began the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thereby greatly changed American society, curtailing public freedoms and burdening the nation with two intractable wars. The question, how did the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11 affect American society, guided the examination of how a Cold War mentality and Bush’s vertiginous approval ratings that led to the social change. This second part of the article addresses this social change and analyses it through the lens of Social Conflict Theory.
Social Conflict Theory lends itself well to an analysis of these limitations of freedoms and declarations of war as this sociological perspective focuses on the unequal distribution of power between a society’s groups and on how the powerful use their power to exploit and control the less powerful (Lindsey, & Beach, & Ravelli, 2009). In the case of 9/11, the powerful are the members of the Bush administration and the less powerful are the American people. Though Social Conflict Theory generally deems social change positive (the idea being that the oppressed will better their conditions), in the aftermath of 9/11 the American government employed terror for its own ends, producing a social change exploitative of the American people (Lindsey, et al., 2009).
The Patriot Act affords the American government, specifically the Executive Branch, the opportunity to monitor the communications of any American (Uniting and strengthening, 2001). From the perspective of Social Conflict, this limitation of civil liberties represents a method used by those in power to facilitate the protection of their position, thereby allowing the continued exploitation of those they govern. With the opportunistic passing of the Patriot Act, the American government protected itself in two ways. First, the Patriot Act helps prevent future terrorist attacks, attacks which could result in public discontent towards the government’s performance, and thus in turn could threaten the government’s position of power. And second, this legislation theoretically allows the government to discover any potential threat to its position brewing amongst the American people and deal with those responsible accordingly. Social Conflict Theory would view this abuse of power as intolerable and would therefore advocate the formation of a mass reactionary movement by the American people with the goal of restoring civil liberties curbed by the Patriot Act.
Through the lens of Social Conflict Theory, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are also highly objectionable. The Invasion of Afghanistan was a disproportionate reaction, while the War in Iraq was justified by the lie of WMDs (Van der Heide, 2013). In fact both of these conflicts were flagrant exploitations of the American people spurred by the Bush administration’s Cold Warrior mentality (Holmes, 2007). Before the invasion, Iraq’s oil industry was entirely nationalised; during the War in Iraq the United States forced the new Iraqi government to privatise the oil industry, selling it off to foreign companies (Claes, 2005).
Once again the central issue is the protection of the position of the powerful. In the United States both the military and oil industries pour millions of dollars into political campaigns and donations; the members of the American government therefore always have an incentive to be in favour in wars, especially in oil rich countries such as Iraq. In addition, in accordance with Social Conflict Theory, the racial discrimination towards Muslim Americans caused by these protracted wars help distract American society from the oppressions of its government (Kurzman, et al., 2011). Finally, Social Conflict Theory would once more promote the formation of a mass reactionary movement by the American people, to pressure the government to end to the War in Afghanistan.
By exploiting the terror of September 11th and lying to the American people, the American government passed the Patriot Act, curbing civil liberties, and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. This reaction to 9/11 produced deleterious social change within the United States but benefited the Bush administration immensely, protecting its position of power and exploiting the American people. In hindsight it is exceedingly obvious that a more reasoned reaction would have had the potential to better the United States both sociologically and in the eyes of the world. It is salutary that, in the end, the American public exerted its ultimate power when, in 2009, they replaced the Republican administration with that of Barack Obama.
for part 1, please see
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Van der Heide, L. (2013). Cherry-picked intelligence: the weapons of mass destruction dispositive as a legitimation for national security in the post 9/11 age. Historical Social Research, 38(1), 286-307. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=sih&AN=85034989&site=ehost-live