Pages Navigation Menu

Processing 9/11 (2001)

Processing 9/11 (2001)

©2001, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2001). Processing 9/11. Unpublished essay.

I wrote this a day or two after the attacks of September 11, 2001. I posted it on the PineLakeGA Yahoo list.




Processing 9/11

By Dallas Denny


I know all of us have been doing a great deal of thinking about what has happened this week. I’ve sent off some of my knee jerk reactions on this list and have had phone conversations with friends and some office conversations, but I got home from work too late for the impromptu gathering at the Clubhouse; this list, it seems, will be my place to process what I’m thinking and feeling.

What I’m feeling, of course, is a combination of shock, grief, and anger. What I’m thinking, above all, is that one morning on national television, everything changed.

Let me say I’m not as optimistic as many have been. For more than ten years I’ve been anticipating a nuclear, biological, or chemical (or combination) attack on one or more of our cities. I’m anticipating more such attacks, and a worse one next time. Needless to say, I’ve considered attacks by “conventional” means (explosives, missiles, even hijacked airplanes) an inevitability. What has shocked me is not that the recent events have occurred, but that they were so well-coordinated and so grievously successful.

After a 35-year history of hijackings and attempted hijackings, and especially since the government has for some time been aware terrorists were planning to use airliners as guided missiles, I’m astonished procedures weren’t put in place to ensure pilots remain in control of their aircraft. I’ve been saying for years that every large commercial airplane should be equipped with a bulletproof and batterproof door to close off the cockpit. I knew that hadn’t been done, but I was surprised to learn that in the event of trouble in the passenger area, the policy of airlines has been for the crew to leave the cockpit to intervene. That’s a setup for what happened on Tuesday, September 11.

As I watched Tuesday morning’s grisly events happening, I was morally certain none of the pilots were in control of the planes at the time of impact. That was of course confirmed when the FBI learned the hijackers had been attending flight training schools. I was also certain the plane that crashed into that hillside in Pennsylvania was put there deliberately by the pilots or perhaps by passengers. That now seems to have been the case. I’m awed by the courage shown by the passengers on that flight and grateful to those who choose to exchange the probability of death for the certainty, ending their own lives early so others might live.

For those who have asked (actually, nobody has asked), here’s my analysis of causative factors. I’m equally harsh, I think, on the U.S., Israel, and other Middle Eastern peoples. I’m playing no favorites.

The United States has seriously pissed off a lot of people, sometimes out of necessity, but more often foolishly. For a century now our policy in the Middle East has been intrusive, ham-handed, and unbalanced, influenced by the twin gods of oil and money. Our treatment of and concessions to Middle Eastern countries has been based upon how much petroleum they have and how eager they are to sell it to us. The exception is Israel, with which the U.S. has always had close ties. We have excused Israel’s inexcusable excesses and avoided calling that country to task for breaking its promises—while we have simultaneously called the stateless Palestinians terrorists and asked them to stand down. We have ignored human rights violations by the Israelis and refused to defend those whose rights have been violated, if they are of Arab descent.

I consider that Israel has acted dishonorably. On the brink of peace, after having gotten tremendous concessions from the Palestinians, and in complete disregard of its promise not to do so, Israel continued to settle the West Bank. With the election of Netanyahu, Israel made its decision to walk away from peace; that decision was confirmed in the last election, which brought in an even more warlike crowd.

Neither have the other Middle-Eastern nations been blameless. For decades Iran was ruled by a corrupt Shah who was supported in his excesses by the U.S. and allowed to imprison, torture, and kill with impunity. With the ousting of the Shah, Iran took a militant religious turn; for decades the citizens have been suffering from fundamentalist repression and only now is freedom of expression beginning to gain ground. Iraq is ruled by a madman; since he is corrupt, since he is ruthless, since he is a zealot, one might expect him to have a history of U.S. support. Indeed, he has. We enabled his insane regime by funding Iraq in its war with Iran, and paid the price eleven years ago when we went to war with Iraq over his actions. We mobilized a great military force, rolled over Iraq’s borders in a Blitzkrieg (lightning war) the likes of which had not been seen since Germany’s invasion of Poland. Then, for some incredible, inexplicable reason, we stopped, without really taking care of the problem. All that equipment, all those men, all that money, and nothing was really changed.

In Arabia, we prop up a royal family hated by the fundamentalist populace, and ditto in some of the other countries. It’s a mess all around.

And then there’s the matter of the Palestinians. I’m certainly not their champion, but I can understand their frustration of being without a country and their determination to have one. They are persecuted, harassed, beaten, tortured, and killed at will by the government of Israel and by Israeli homesteader vigilantes who are rarely if ever punished. Their homes are bulldozed without warning, they are locked up without due process, they are kept in their homes, allowed to go out only to shop and to work, and restricted from travel, often even to their jobs.

With no military, Palestinians are fighting with rocks against helicopters, fighter jets and bombers, guided missiles, and the Bomb. And they have chosen another weapon: terrorism.

We like to think terrorists are deranged, evil people. It’s a mistake, and a grave one, to consider them so. For one thing, it does them a disservice. On a more pragmatic level, it causes us to underestimate them. We should not underestimate them. Tuesday taught us that. We should consider them a small, undercover military force, underfunded and unarmed except for an unknown number of religious fanatics who don’t mind sacrificing their lives for the cause—but intelligent, dedicated, and rational.

Once the jump is made to terrorism, once someone decides, for whatever reason, it is a legitimate military and political activity, that it is not only acceptable but a great honor to die for Allah, it becomes a matter of military planning to decide how best to accomplish the goal of bringing a superior power under control—by surprise attacks on the government, military, infrastructure, and the civilian population of that force. That’s what terrorism is about.

About 20 years ago, I realized, somewhat to my astonishment, the goals of terrorism are no different from those of any nation’s military. The U.S.. after all, has never been particularly concerned about collateral damage, and since the Second World War has deliberately waged war on civilian populations— remember the firebombing of Dresden and the nuking of those two Japanese cities at the close of World War II. We should remember also that dead is dead, whether one is blown up in a night club in Berlin by a suitcase bomb or killed by a cruise missile launched from an aircraft carrier 300 miles away. Both are equally impersonal. There is but one difference: the delivery system. What makes terrorism different is it does’t require armies, navies, and air forces. Nor does it require a government. What makes terrorism sh*t-scary to nations with armies, navies, and air forces is their military cannot protect them from even a small force—even a single person—determined to cause damage. It’s the idea of a government-of-one that frightens, confuses, and embarrasses governments-of-many.

The lesson to be learned here is not that terrorism isn’t awful. It is *indeed* awful. It is wicked and inhumane, and it may already have set into events which will eventually result in the deaths of millions in a third World War. But so is the sort of impersonal killing done by armies and air forces and navies. The question I asked myself 20 years ago was, “Does the ability to purchase a sophisticated delivery system make one morally superior to those who cannot afford one?” My answer was no. It’s murder, and especially impersonal murder, murder of those whose names one doesn’t know, those one has never met and never seen, which is most awful. And I consider governments as guilty as terrorists.

In contrast to the words of George W. Bush, I don’t think Tuesday was an attack on freedom. I think it was payback for the way this nation has behaved, for things like our boycott of the recent U.N. conference on human rights in South Africa, for our caving in to Israeli interests, for 100 years of greed and our manipulations in the Middle East.

Again, this is about what I consider to be the root causes of Tuesday’s events. I’m not attempting to justify it, only to explain why I think it happened.

One last bit of political analysis. When one engages in terrorism, it’s with the expectation of ultimately paying the consequences. That’s why IRA soldiers are so stoic when apprehended, why so many Palestinians are willing to die for their cause. In other words, just because the terrorists don’t have missiles and airplanes doesn’t mean we are obligated not to use all our assets in our pursuit of them. Just as they used the means at their disposal, so will we use ours. They know what is coming, and for that reason, you can bet that by now they’re dispersed and deep underground in Argentina, Paris, Illinois, Alice Springs, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Budapest, Mecca.

End of political analysis.

The difficulty with Tuesday’s attacks is we didn’t know who was responsible. Of course we *thought* we knew, but we thought we knew who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, and that turned out to be an American, indeed an “Aryan,” one McVie. Unlike the Alamo or Pearl Harbor, we are not faced with a clear enemy. We’re ready to go kick the sh*t out of someone, but we’re not quite sure who. Right now the Taliban is looking pretty good. Bin-Laden, Khadaffi, Saddam Hussein, all those folks are looking like targets.

I have grave concern about the well-being of U.S. citizens, residents, and visitors who looks as if they might be from the Middle East. Already Muslim centers have been shot at and fire-bombed, individuals attacked and killed because of their presumed ethnicity and religious beliefs. I’m concerned about Muslims being demonized: harassed, shot on the streets or in their bedrooms, lynched, prevented from traveling, interned in camps. I can see it coming, for the country’s mood is understandably ugly. Last night a caller on a national TV news talk show called for internment of all Middle-Easterners. My fear is the excesses of the World War II will be repeated, that our anger will be directed at the innocent. I’m especially worried because our present enemy is so illusive; we can’t just go kick Tojo’s a**. I am prepared to resist with all my might any sort of collective insanity to which we might as a nation build ourselves.

I also have concerns about freedom. I don’t mean the buzzword. I mean the real thing. I was talking with a co-worker this morning who wanted to see armed soldiers at intersections. That’s a frightening thought, one step from a junta, and not in South America, but right here. I don’t like having to censor my speech. I don’t like having to go through metal detectors at airports. I don’t like having to wear seat belts, even if it’s foolish not to. Like any good —I am tempted to say *real* American—I resent and protest restriction of the freedom guaranteed by the Amendments to our Constitution. I’m afraid the present crisis will result in curtailment of some of our precious freedoms.

I have concerns about getting into another no-win Vietnam-type situation. The Soviet Union had an unfortunate experience in Afghanistan. We don’t need to repeat it. If we should happen to declare war on any nation, or to attack any nation without declaring war, we need no more Koreas; it must be balls-to-the-wall, total surrender, no exceptions. That’s a hard statement, but history has shown it doesn’t work otherwise. We must not become embroiled in a morally confusing “police action.” We also must not act in such a way as to piss off half the world, for there lies World War III. We need intelligent leadership.

I’m especially concerned about having, at this time of crisis, an experienced man in the White House. We need a strong leader, an FDR, a Kennedy, a Lincoln, a Teddy Roosevelt—and yes, even a Clinton. We have Dubya, a man with a classic history as a slacker, ostensibly in charge. We don’t need a vacillator in charge. Looking for a quality of leadership which would change my mind, I didn’t see it on Tuesday. He’s been better since, but that’s a matter of his being handled. It’s clear he has little understanding of the way the world works, the way Washington works, the way the United States works. A privileged child of a privileged family, a man with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, a history of avoiding Vietnam, a history as a failed oil man, a puppet of special interests—especially oil, in this time of Middle Eastern conflict—a man who woke up and started behaving in a responsible manner only at age 40, Dubya appalls me.

Since, Dubya, as was Reagan, is not really the President but merely a talking head who does what he is told, stumbling over the words on the cue cards and falling apart when attempting to answer questions for which he has not been pre-prepared, the real Executive Officer of this country is the cabal which runs him. They’re the old guard, the religious right, scary for sure, but capable of making decision by committee. Unfortunately, it takes time to do this. On Tuesday we needed a president capable of taking immediate and decisive action, someone who knew what was going on and what he wanted to do about it. We didn’t have that. We had a belated Presidential address which said effectively nothing.

I’m further concerned that the peculiar values of the Presidential cabal is not the people’s clear choice for the leader of this nation. As would have been the case had Gore squeaked in, we have a President who did not come into office by the mandate of the people, but because of biased partisan judicial and executive decisions in a third-world quality national election. Being in the office by default, we could at least expect this Dubya to be strong and decisive. Unfortunately, he is not. Here’s hoping it don’t come down to one of those split-second “Do we launch or not, Mr. President” decisions.

In a way, though, it doesn’t really matter who is President. Even if it were Gore, there would be the same inevitable course of action. Our citizens seem ready to go to war, and if that’s their choice, I don’t think any President could stop it. The future is frightening.

Thanks for letting me rant. I needed to process some of this stuff; it’s been weighing heavily. Writing has been a great catharsis. I have no idea if I’ll actually send this e-mail.