During your time on the Internet, there is a pretty good chance you have seen someone invoke "Godwin's Law" in order to end a discussion. I myself used it in a thread that is still on the front page of this site. However, in case you are unfamiliar with Godwin's Law, here is a quick definition
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. However there is also a widely- recognized codicil that any intentional triggering of Godwin's Law in order to invoke its thread-ending effects will be unsuccessful.
These days, however, the longer a blog discussion goes, the odds of 9/11 being mentioned not only approach one, it actually might do so at a faster rate than a comparison involving Nazis. In fact, when a politician is talking, the longer the politician talks, the odds of 9/11 being discussed approach one even faster than that. However, the main difference between the latter and Godwin's law is that whenever a politician mentions 9/11, s/he appears to have automatically won whatever argument was taking place. As Ronald Brownstein of Common Dreams recently wrote
, playing this trump card ends arguments and allows whoever said it first to win the argument:
During a Senate debate last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) reached for the most powerful weapon in any argument over national security for nearly the last three years.
The issue was a proposal from Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to bar private contractors from interrogating military prisoners. Dodd played his high card by arguing that such a ban could reduce the odds of another black eye for America such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. But Sessions trumped him by suggesting the ban might increase the chances of another terrorist attack such as Sept. 11.
What if, Sessions asked, "the very best interrogator in the United States of America" was not a military officer but a retired detective who had "the ability to [obtain] information that can save thousands of lives" through skilled interrogation? Could America really deny itself an asset that might help prevent another terrorist attack?
Partly because of that argument, the Senate on Wednesday rejected Dodd's amendment. That was little surprise. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the best way to build support for any national security initiative has been to portray it as a new line of defense against a repeat of that tragic day.
That was the justification for the Senate passage of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded Washington's ability to monitor suspected terrorists. Those arguments drove the creation of the Department of Homeland Security a year later.
The same logic turns up more explicitly in memos from Justice and Defense department attorneys before the Abu Ghraib scandal loosening the limits on acceptable coercion during interrogation.
Writing to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on March 6, 2003, top Pentagon lawyers acknowledged that "even in war, limits to the use and extent of force apply." But citing Justice Department memos, they concluded "the nation's right to self-defense has been triggered" by the Sept. 11 attacks. And that meant harm to those under interrogation could be justified "to prevent further attacks on the United States by the Al Qaeda terrorist network."
This argument, of course, made its most dramatic appearance in President Bush's drive to win support for war with Iraq. The report last week from the staff of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks rekindled the debate over whether Bush misled the nation before the war about the extent of the links between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
We often hear from conservatives that 9/11 changed everything. Well, apparently 9/11 did change everything because now it can be used to justify anything (Dude, go drinking with me tonight or the terrorists win). What really pisses me off when I hear that 9/11 changed everything and, as a result, can now be used to justify anything, is that 9/11 did change everything for me personally. However, I did not undergo the same bloodthirsty change conservatives imply all patriotic Americans underwent when the use the vague, Orwellian, semi-totalitarian phrase, "9/11 changed everything."
I know 9/11 was an important trigger that helped to bring the relationship I was in at the time to a gradual end. I know it significantly reduced my performance as a teacher in the fall of 2001. I know it led me to question whether or not I had chosen the right profession, and whether or not I should become a full-time activist instead. I know it changed me politically, helping to bring me out of the far left and into any coalition that was willing to stand up to the crap the GOP has tried to get away with by using the 9/11 justification. In short, for me 9/11 did change almost everything. It changed my job, my politics, a long-term relationship, and even the dreams and hopes I have for my life.
Unfortunately, I do not think that it is possible to reclaim the phrase in such a manner. Given this, I feel our only option in the Blogopshere is to thoroughly discredit it. Thus, I believe it is time for a New Godwin's law. When in an argument, using any variation of the following will cause the user to lose the argument and end that line of discussion:
- 9/11 changed everything
- 9/11 You don't want another 9/11 to happen, do you?
- This could be prevent another 9/11
- A comparison involving terrorists or 9/11
Whatever we end up calling it this new law, or if it ever catches on, something drastic needs to be done about the way we use 9/11 in our culture and our politics.