The attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 were the direct result of the failure of US agencies, ranging from the White House to airport security, to recognize vulnerabilities present in the various symptoms. The reason why these vulnerabilities were not acknowledged and repaired is that these various agencies were trapped in a cognitive dissonance cycle of thinking. After the Cold War, terrorism was seen as a regional problem (9/11 Commission, 92). The majority of terrorist groups were either groups sponsored by governments or militants trying to create governments (i.e. Palestine Liberation Organization). As a result, the tactics used for fighting terrorism were centralized mostly in the Middle East and were restricted to task forces and field training by the US. The US ground forces were almost never used and, when used, were limited to small task force type missions. Furthermore, a majority of terrorist incidents prior to 9/11 usually ended in negotiations (9/11 Commission, 94). Because the government felt that it had a strong understanding of how terrorist situations occurred in the post cold war period, warning signs on the eve on 9/11 were ignored. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had a similar point of view in regards to security. The system they had in place by 9/11 was seemingly successful, for they had avoided hostage situations for 14 years. Furthermore, airlines were under increasing pressure to lower the cost of flights and make checking in and out of airports more efficient, which naturally led to security problems (Easterbrook, 164). The FAA and major airlines felt that there was no reason to fix a functioning system, and was powerless to make changes anyway due to economic pressures.
An uncomfortable state of tension is caused when contradictions occur within the cognitive system. People are therefore motivated to reduce or eliminate this tension state, which is known as cognitive dissonance (Larson, 29). For example, a man who eats 3 hamburgers per day might one day find out that eating food high in fat increases the likelihood of heart disease. Because he likes them, the man believes that eating hamburgers is good (if something is pleasurable, why wouldn't it be good?). Now he is told to believe that eating hamburgers is bad. Thus arises cognitive dissonance. People have a set of beliefs that is organized and logical. When information is introduced that contradicts those beliefs people have a tendency to react in several ways to reduce the inconstancy with which they have been presented. 1) A person could change his behavior (Larson, 30): the man mentioned above could stop eating hamburgers. 2) A change in environment could occur (Larson, 30): the man could start eating fat free hamburgers. 3) More consistent beliefs (some might call them rationalizations) could be added to the a person's cognitive system (Larson, 30); the man can tell himself that he is on the Atkins' diet and eating the hamburgers will allow him to lose weight and therefore be more healthy (not the correct conclusion to draw from the information, but one which fits the man's logic).
The effects of dissonance can change the way in which a person gathers information. A person could develop a selective attention span where he only pays attention to material that reinforces his accepted cognitive system. Interpretation of all material could also be skewed to fit that person's set of beliefs, creating a selective interpretation system (Larson, 31). When these methods are applied to the subject of foreign policy, the negative effects are obvious. For example, leaders could hold on to a belief system that is no longer valid. In the 1980s, the US viewed the USSR military power as threatening even though they were powerless. (Larson, 32) As a result, the government wasted millions of dollars on the Star Wars ballistic missile defense program that could have been spent on other programs. Another example...
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