Tragedy for the world

Samuel Moyn reflects on the legacy of 9/11.
Samuel Moyn
Samuel Moyn

By Samuel Moyn
Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and professor of history, Yale Law School

Sept. 11 was a tragedy for America, but it prompted an American response that has been a tragedy for the world. After two decades of war, every place American force has touched has been made worse, with the risk of terrorism often exacerbated, and at the price of millions of lives and trillions of dollars.

More than this, even though Joe Biden has followed his two predecessors in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the authorities the American president has arrogated over two decades to send force abroad have not been reined in. Nor does the war on terror — as distinct from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that started it — seem likely to end in the foreseeable future.

Counterterrorism across a wide arc of the earth is not just our past but our future. In this way, the 20th anniversary is a melancholy one: it does not allow a full retrospective on a closed era, only a reflective pause to consider whether we want the changes it has brought to our government and our politics, not to mention their victims far away.

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