The explanation: PTSD
On 9/11/2001 the United States was attacked by terrorists within our own territory. It was shocking and for its victims and the rest of us, and it was mostly unexpected. In my opinion, as a result the nation has experienced -- and is still experiencing -- the symptoms of PTSD.
A disclaimer to begin this post -- First, I in no way, want to minimize the trauma done to the nation by the terrible terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Almost three thousand people died that day and thereafter, and every one of those lost lives was precious. Second, I in no way want to minimize the current national security threat posed by al Qaeda and its offshoot adherents. It is serious.
When an individual experiences an unexpected traumatic event, or repeatedly experiences trauma, Post Traumatic Stress can develop into a Disorder. The symptoms of PTSD include: reaction to a precipitating event; withdrawal; apathy (lack of interest in life); difficulty concentrating; anger; sleeping problems; fatigue; irritability; fear/hyper-vigilence; recurrent intrusive thoughts/recollections; recurrent distressing dreams; rage; intense fear, helplessness, horror; intrusions; flashbacks; intense psychological reaction at exposure; intense physiological reaction at exposure; restricted affect; or exaggerated startle response.
After our nation experienced an unexpected traumatic series of events on that September day six years ago, a significant percentage of the population is still experiencing these symptoms (with my examples): over-reaction to that precipitating event (administration subversion of civil-liberties protections), our apathy (low voter turnout at elections or boycotting the news), difficulty concentrating (mainstream media's failure to investigate wrong-doing), anger (Bush attacking Iraq), our fatigue (blogger burnout), irritability (partisanship in Congress), fear/hyper-vigilence (extended "Yellow" official threat level), our recurrent intrusive recollections (precipitated by 9/11 anniversary news coverage or administration code phrases), rage (Bush threats of attack towards Iran), helplessness (Congress capitulation to administration demands), horror (administration officials capitulation to "blood on your hands" threats), restricted affect (Vice President Dick Cheney), or exaggerated startle response (Blackwater).
Better treatments for PTSD are being researched by the military, as traumatized soldiers, sailors, etc. come home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. One would wish that the benefits of that research could be applied to our nation's recovery after trauma. One would wish that our leaders, who are supposed to provide healing, do not re-traumatize citizens with inappropriate interventions. One would wish that the Fourth Estate (the media) on our behalf would rigorously question those in charge of treatment choices (government actions). One would wish that our elected representatives would advocate for us as they negotiate with Leaders exhibiting the most obvious PTSD symptoms. One would wish that voters would ascertain which of the candidates for U.S. President has the fewest symptoms of PTSD.
A third disclaimer ends this post. I have compassion for all of us who are victims of PTSD, including the members of the Bush administration whose decisions continue to reflect lack of healing, caving Democrats, cowed members of the media, fearful voters, and apathetic judges. I also have compassion for my own obsessive tendencies towards an over-focus on the issues of civil liberties (the PTSD symptom is recurrent intrusions/recollections).
The thing is this. This national trauma seems to be similar to the same way that rape and incest victims, members of the military who have experienced the horrors of war over and over, or someone just fresh from a bad car accident, cannot help what symptoms they are having. But just like individuals with PTSD, leading groups in the nation need to go about getting some healing, regaining some perspective, fighting the actual enemies, and getting on with the business of the country.
(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)