Another of these telling ironies was al Qaeda’s famous “miscalculation” regarding the effect of their attack on the American psyche. Bin Laden’s network had “intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat,” as the President himself explained bare hours after it happened. But of course, Bush intoned gravely, “they have failed; our country is strong.” Indeed, a wave of patriotism spread across the nation in the wake of the attack, like shockwaves radiating out from an epicenter at Ground Zero. Flags flew off the shelves nationwide as people showed their solidarity with the President, with the victims, with each other. “If it’s anything red white and blue it’s gonna sell” said one Wal Mart employee. Dan Rather said it well when he pointed out the irony: “the terrorists who set out to destroy America failed miserably. In fact, after September 11th, the nation was more united than ever.”
The idea continued well into 2002 at least. The Ad Council started a line of television spots to mark the first Independence Day after 9/11. These promoted the concept of “Freedom.” (Appreciate it, Cherish it, Protect it). In one particularly telling spot, a narrator intoned “on September 11th, terrorists tried to change our lives forever,” as a row of plain looking houses faded to black. Then the houses faded back in decked-out with American flags under a cloudy sky, over which the narrator intoned "they succeeded."
The spot’s writers certainly saw an irony in that, but the irony I see is a bit different, and I read different weather in those clouds. The attack “succeeded” not in intimidating America but, ironically, in boosting patriotism and jingoism – as well as flag sales, Bush’s popularity numbers, military recruitment, church attendance, support for a radical foreign policy of conquest, etc.
Is Osama bin Laden, or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or whatever deputies planned the ghastly attacks really that stupid that they couldn’t foresee the chain of events their actions would trigger? Were they not aware the attack might be seen as a “catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor,” or fail to realize who would benefit most from the political fallout? If not, their collective intelligence is clearly brought into question. If so, either the true motives of al Qaeda or their guilt for the attack must likewise come into doubt.