The Sept. 11 Canon: Week 1

The Cause of the Mess We're in Now: People Who Just Didn't Get It 
New books dissected over email.
Nov. 6 2001 5:21 PM

The Sept. 11 Canon: Week 1

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

You're right, Geraldine—I should have made it clear that we always retained the right to do defensive research even though we didn't do any. How come? As you say, because there was more money for defense contractors in hardware. But why was that the case? Because once we de-funded it, we forgot about it. There was no one left to get upset about it, no bureaucracy left to advance its cause. Shortsighted, maybe, but inevitable. You can't just blame the CIA or the Pentagon. If you as a nation want something done, you put money in it. You want to relegate it to oblivion, you take the money away. If the American people had had a clear sense of the danger they were in, there would have been plenty of money for vaccines and all the rest. But, of course, if we'd been properly alarmed, we would never have de-funded the whole deal to begin with. I blame the '60s for creating this crazy, self-hating atmosphere in which Americans convinced themselves that they were the world's biggest threat and all they had to do is disarm and everyone else would, too. As Bart Simpson would say, "Wrong!"

Advertisement

Look, I'm just going from the book here. M., E., and B. haven't given us any portraits of Pentagon or CIA machiavels deliberately suppressing information about the dangers of germ warfare while stuffing payola in their back pockets. Their story is about people who really didn't get it—liberal scientists who refused to believe that the bad guys could possibly be as bad as those dirty CIA spies say they are or hard-line military folk stuck by inside old-fashioned models of combat and unable to grasp how completely the possibility of germ warfare had changed the terms of everything. The right screwed us as much as the left did, simply by being unable to comprehend the hugeness of the problem.

As for whether our grand idealistic gesture somehow made it harder for other nations to use germ warfare, I'd love to see you make that case—what's the evidence? If you're right, it would make me feel a whole lot better about having shot ourselves in the foot.

 

  Slate Plus
Working
Nov. 27 2014 12:31 PM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 11 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked a helicopter paramedic about his workday.