Twin Towers and Tiger Woods bracket the decade

The attack on the World Trade Centre shaped politics and how we live

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The Gazette, Thursday, December 31, 2009

The decade that concludes today was marked at the beginning by the fall of the Twin Towers and at the end by the fall from grace of Tiger Woods, an idol who proved to be all too human.

One event was real news and the other was celebrity news.

One saw the end of the Pax Americana, which lasted only a decade, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the fall of the World Trade Centre. The other saw the takedown of a billion-dollar brand, undone by a 99-cent zipper.

These two events not only served as bookends for a decade, they also demonstrated in different ways that this is an age of living dangerously.

The calamitous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not only raised terrorist threats to new and previously unimagined levels, they also struck at the heart of American financial and military power, the financial district of New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

More than a day of infamy, 9/11 became the defining moment of the decade, in that it changed outcomes, and the entire course of history.

For example, about 25 Canadians died in the Sept. 11 attacks, but 138 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan as a direct consequence of 9/11. Canadian soldiers wouldn't have been there, except as part of an operation to clear the country of Al-Qa'ida and their Taliban hosts. Eight years later, we are still there, one of 44 countries participating in a counter-insurgency against the resilient Taliban.

As a direct result of the terror attacks, U.S. foreign policy was transformed to a decade of American exceptionalism, epitomized by the Bush Doctrine, essentially one of shoot first and ask questions later, nowhere more so than in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

No one ever suggested that Saddam Hussein was a benevolent dictator, but neither did anyone suggest he had an arsenal that included weapons of mass destruction, until that was put forward as the trumped-up pretext for the invasion by the U.S. and its Coalition of the Willing. This, too, was a direct consequence of 9/11. George W. Bush went after Saddam because he could, and because he couldn't find Osama bin Laden. Eight years after Osama and the gang were allowed to escape from their Afghan caves in Tora Bora, they remain at large in the wild west of Pakistan.

And the reason Canada expanded its role in Afghanistan in 2003 was precisely because we hadn't joined the Bush coalition in Iraq. It was Jean Chrétien's way of making it up to the Americans for our absence on one front by our commitment on another. Later, the most consequential Canadian military decision of the decade - the redeployment from the relative safety of patrolling Kabul to the very dangerous province of Kandahar - was made in the summer of 2005 without any public discussion or explanation by the prime minister of the day, Paul Martin. When the new Conservative government called a vote to extend the commitment, Martin, who had put our soldiers in harm's way, was inexplicably absent from the House.

For travellers, this has been a decade of inconvenience, because of heightened security concerns at airports. In the good old days, people used to hijack planes to fly them to Cuba, not into buildings. The events of 9/11 later begat the shoe bomber and, as recently as Christmas Day, the guy who had explosives sewn into his underwear. The chaos that has since reigned at airports is just one further consequence of 9/11.

The decade has also featured the bursting of several bubbles on the stock market, from the tech bubble of 2000 to the financial-services bubble that triggered the Great Recession of 2008-09. But no single event comes close to the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, which defined the decade. If only it had somehow been prevented.

At this end of the decade, the last few weeks have brought down an idol, Tiger Woods, easily the most dominant professional athlete of the decade. It turns out that he's equally prolific in extracurricular activities, in which he has given philandering a bad name. It turns out that he has as many girlfriends, 14, as clubs permitted in his golf bag.

None of this is in the public interest, but it is in the public domain.

Tiger is more than an athlete, he's a brand, the biggest brand name in the world. Part of his brand was the formidable competitor. But another part was the squeaky-clean image, now irreparably tarnished by a parade of cocktail waitresses only too eager to share their stories of romps with Tiger. The speed with which sponsors have dumped him - from Accenture to Gillette - speaks volumes about the commercial peril in which he has put himself.

But it also says something about the culture of celebrity news, as well as the culture of television, which in this decade has come to be dominated by reality shows having nothing to do with reality.

Contestants on these shows are auditioning to be famous for being famous, like the gatecrashers at Barack Obama's state dinner. They were caught only because they brazenly posted images on their Facebook page.

The decade produced information platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, not least, text messaging.

Memo to Tiger: u r so LoL.

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