COMICS/BOOKS: John Reviews “After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- )” by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

The time for remembrance of 9/11 in 2008 has come and gone once again, and unfortunately I was unable to fit all of my 9/11-related book reviews into the week following the anniversary of the WTC/Pentagon/United 93 tragedies. Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that I am reviewing Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon’s After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- ) at a later date than the rest. This work of graphic journalism begins where their previous work, The 9/11 Commission Report: A Graphic Adaptation left off and covers the Global War on Terror from September 11, 2001 until June 6, 2008 (when the book went to press.)

There is only one way to describe the impression I was left with after reading After 9/11, and that is a mixture of shocked and disappointed. Don’t take the wrong idea from this reaction, though. Jacobson and Colon have done an admirable job of collecting some of the most relevant historical facts from the past seven years and presenting them in a straightforward, non-partisan manner. The quality of the physical product is as high as that of their previous work, if not higher. It is the subject matter itself that has given me such a profound sense of shame, frustration, despair and disappointment. Jacobson and Colon pull no punches, and to read the sequence of events chronologically from 2001 until this year acts as a grim reminder of the mistakes made by many different responsible parties.

The most important point of After 9/11, at least in terms of emphasis within the book, is the examination of Iraq’s role in the War on Terror prior to our invasion in 2003. Jacobson and Colon report not only the official press releases from the White House between 9/11/01 and the start of Operation: Shock and Awe, but also the reports that contradicted the President’s decision. Furthermore, they include the many refutations of the Bush Administration’s already questionable evidence, highlighting reports that there was no recognizable connection between Saddam’s Iraqi forces and Al Queda. When shown side-by-side with the Bush Administration’s affirmations that the war was categorically necessary and that our country is safer because of it, the evidence is really quite damning.

Surprisingly enough, the early section of the book that deals with America’s immediate reaction to 9/11/01 and military action in Afghanistan paints the picture of a nation that is gaining control of a dangerous situation and taking measured action to confront one known threat to its people. It’s a shame that the situation deteriorates once Iraq is brought up by the Presidential Administration.

Unfortunately, as was the case with The 9/11 Commission Report: A Graphic Adaptation, Jacobson and Colon fail to make effective use of sequential art as a medium of expression. Too often After 9/11 feels like a picture book instead of a comic book, with large text captions set alongside tangentially-related drawn replications of press photos. These illustrations can be effective, such as the many panels showing the aftermath of car bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, but ultimately it fails to even measure up to its predecessor, much less surpass it.

I must warn you, dear potential reader, that when it comes to enjoyment of After 9/11 your mileage may vary depending upon your personal perspective on the Iraq war. While it presents the facts in a manner that is fair to both parties, there are subtle elements of anti-war bias (ranging from contextual placement of quotes to particular choices of photos to illustrate.) Nevertheless, I sympathized with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and with several high-ranking military officials after reading this book. Our deployed troops are in the midst of terrible danger every day, attempting to enforce stability in a region that wants to be anything but stable. Their very presence is keeping the nation from falling into civil war, yet that same presence is provoking terrible acts of violence and hindering the ability of the central Iraqi government to act on its own. Yet our current administration will not waver, will not even acknowledge the idea that the supremely challenging situation we’re in may require something more than “add more troops” to reach a satisfactory resolution. But this is getting into political rant territory, so I’ll save that line of thought for another day. Suffice it to say that After 9/11 is an important book, one that should be read by those who are interested in (but perhaps not completely informed on) America’s Global War on Terror. Its importance is worth special mention now, since the outcome this year’s presidential election could (or could not) signal a drastic change of tactics on both major fronts. It may also act as a “gateway” book, inspiring readers to inform themselves to a greater extent regarding the most important international issue facing America today.

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