A really important lesson to be learned from 9/11 and its aftermath concerns America's collective grandiosity. Prior to 9/11, it was virtually unthinkable that America would be attacked on its own soil. On September 11, 2001, as we watched the terrorist attack on live TV, we saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse right before our eyes and witnessed the instant death of more than three thousand people.
The terrorist attack of 9/11 inflicted a devastating collective trauma on the American psyche. In horrifyingly demonstrating that even America can be assaulted on its native soil, the attack of 9/11 shattered our collective illusions of safety, inviolability, and grandiose invincibility, illusions that had long been mainstays of the American historical identity. In the wake of such shattering, Americans became much more susceptible to resurrective ideologies that promised to restore the grandiose illusions that have been lost. It was in this context of collective trauma and resurrective ideology that Americans fell prey to the abuses of power of the Bush administration. Following 9/11, Bush et al. did not merely go after Al Qaeda. Fueling and exploiting the dread of retraumatization, they declared war on global terrorism and drew America into a grandiose, holy crusade against the forces of evil, enabling Americans to feel delivered from trauma. The disastrous consequences of this resurrective move are now history.
In order to become less susceptible to the lure of destructive grandiose ideologies, we must become better able to own up to our human limitedness and existential vulnerabilities and learn to live together in the painful feelings that accompany such acceptance. If we can help one another bear the darkness, perhaps one day we will be able to see the light.