This piece originally appeared in openDemocracy on 5 September 2011.
In September 2006, I wrote an article that sought to gauge the atmosphere in the United States five years after 9/11. At the time, I was struck by the way that a dark and destructive conflict mentality - something I had become accustomed to in places like Serbia and Kosovo during fourteen years’ away from the country of my birth - seemed to have become entrenched in American society.
“This is what wars do”, I wrote then. “(They) push people into mental corners, where us-and-them thinking works in two pernicious ways: it makes people unwilling to accept other points of view, and utterly blinkers them to facts that do not fit the prevailing group-think. The result is that the very ability to reason gets squeezed, sometimes until it disappears entirely.”
Five years on, it is clear that things have changed enormously in the second half of the post-9/11 decade. Life may not exactly be back to the way it was on 10 September 2001, but the all-consuming public dread of the next terrorist attack and the collective mindset of tribal defence, as well as the hugely counterproductive policy-making that went with that, have mostly dissipated. Put simply, the country has moved on.