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What If 9/11 Never Happened?


Leon Wieseltier
literary editor, The New Republic

9/11 Five Years Later

America would have enjoyed the luxury of some more time in the post–Cold War, inward-looking, money-mad bliss. History had ended, remember? But the bliss would have, in any event, been short-lived. Because if 9/11 had not happened, then 9/12 would have happened, or 9/13 or 9/14. The turbulence in the Islamic world; the fear of modernity and its great representative, the United States; the hatred of Israel—these were all waiting to explode. (So was the North Korean nuclear gambit and the Iranian nuclear gambit: The world was, even then, a much more perilous place than many Americans, and many American policymakers, had wanted to know.) I imagine that it must have been excruciating to be the president of the United States on 9/11, and I understand his subsequent virulence toward the enemies of the United States, but Bush became another victim, the most distinguished and powerful victim, of the instability of thought that 9/11 unleashed in this country. Since 9/11, the discussion of urgent national questions has been dangerously volatile: In Washington, there is almost no point in beginning a political conversation anymore, since you immediately discover that you are speaking either to a Shark or a Jet. The sad truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter anymore what America would have been like if 9/11 had never happened. It was one of the cataclysmic days in our history, one of the great American experiences of the irreversibility of history. And the sadder truth is that most Americans live as if 9/11 did not happen—basically, we’re all still shopping as before. And even the president wants us to stay the same. Once again, this blessed country is weirdly detached from its own historical situation.


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