Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

Imagine it is September 11, 2001 all over again, except this time you are one of the passengers on United Airlines flight 93, bound for San Francisco out of Newark, New Jersey.  Except for luck, fate, timing, call it what you wish, it could have been any of us on that plane on that day.  The plane had already been hijacked and the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon had already been hit by other hijacked aircraft.  What if it had been you on United 93 and you knew about the other hijackings and the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon? What would you do? Would you have decided to make an all out attack on the hijackers, storm the cockpit, and try to take over control of the plane, knowing that it must certainly be destined to smash into another major American landmark?

Not everyone would take that action.  Many would have remained in their seats, hoping, praying for something to save them. Some would have just entered a trance-like state, denying the reality of the entire situation, assuring themselves that it must be a dream from which they would awaken.  Others might even hold out hope that they could bargain with their captors, maybe make a deal – who knows?  But the passengers on United 93 didn’t try to avoid a confrontation.   They knew that the people who had taken control of the plane were ruthless murderers. They knew that their plane was going to be used as a weapon against other Americans. They decided that they were not going to let that happen.

We all know the result of their decision.  They rammed in the door of the cockpit and fought hand to hand with the terrorists for the control of the plane.  The violent struggle continued until the terrorists lost control of the aircraft and it plunged to the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone on board perished. It is now known that the most likely target for United 93 was the U.S. Capitol building.  If the passengers had not intervened our Capitol – the symbol of our democracy – would have been reduced to rubble and many more Americans on the ground would have died.

Here is the question: do the brave passengers on United 93 deserve any posthumous recognition for their bravery from the U.S. government? Should they be awarded posthumous medals, similar to the Medal of Honor that is reserved for military people?  Surely their bravery and their deed of saving the U.S. Capitol is comparable to the bravery and deeds of many who have been awarded the Medal of Honor, isn’t it?

So far, the only recognition these brave heroes of United 93 have been awarded is a Hollywood movie called United 93.  There are government awards available to heroes such as these. There is the highest honor that can be awarded by the U.S. President: the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, perhaps it would be an appropriate medal that could be awarded to recognize their gallant deed. But it hasn’t been. The most recent recipients of this award for “service to country” was CIA Director George Tenat in 2004.  Before that it was Jean MacArthur in 1988, she was the second wife of General Douglas MacArthur. Before that the Medal had been awarded in 1984 to Whittaker Chambers, a former communist spy who eventually testified against Alger Hiss. So far neither President Bush nor President Obama has deemed the heroic passengers of United 93 worthy of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Well, what about the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that Congress can award? The most recent recipient of this award was Arnold Palmer on Sept 30, 2009.  Other recent winners of this award have been Neil Armstrong, Edward Brooke III, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Dr. Michael Debakey.  Congress did take  up the question of awarding their medal to the passengers of United 93, but, in their collective wisdom, they ultimately decided that the passengers on United 93 did not deserve such an august honor from them.

Recently, the National Park Service broke ground for a memorial to the people who died on United 93. It’s a simple memorial, a bit reminiscent of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, sort of half-underground with a low wall. So that’s it? That’s what happens in this country when ordinary civilians show extraordinary courage and save the nation’s Capitol from certain destruction? They get a low wall in the ground in Shanksville, PA? Meanwhile, George Tenat gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Arnold Palmer gets the Congressional Gold Medal?

I have only one question for President Obama (because the Congress is beyond hope): Mr. President, when will you correct this egregious oversight?

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Recently, U.S. authorities made preemptive arrests in five separate cases of potential terrorist attacks.  In all of these cases the alleged perpetrators are Muslims.  It most of these cases the plan was to murder innocent people.  (One plan was to attack a U.S. Marine Corps base – an incredibly stupid thing to do by a bunch of amateurs, and certainly something they would have deeply regretted if they had tried to execute their plan.) At least one of the plans was reminiscent of 9/11 in that it involved an attempt to bomb a skyscraper – full of innocent people.

In the years since 9/11 there has been a long string of murderous attacks on innocents, all performed in the name of Islam. Some of the most notable have been in Spain, England, Indonesia, and India.  The question that comes to mind is this: is the murder of innocents condoned by Islam?  I’m sure the answer is “no”.  But then I must ask why haven’t these attacks been condemned by the leaders of Islam?  The answer partly lies in the fact that there is no one leader of Islam.  Islam doesn’t have a Pope or an Archbishop of Canterbury, it doesn’t have any sort of unified structure that could produce a single voice. Islam is spread across many nations, and it appears that the leadership of Islam exists only on a local level.  I don’t know of any Islamic leader that speaks for the people of more than one country.

I can understand this.  There is no requirement for a unified Islam; in fact, there are some deep differences within Islam that seem to preclude this from ever happening.  There is nothing wrong with that; however, that is not an excuse for silence.  If the leadership of Islam is made up of tens or hundreds or even thousands of men who each are responsible for the religious instruction of their followers, the question I would put to each of them is the same: “Does Islam approve of the murder of innocents?” If the answer is no, and I am sure it is, then it is these leaders who have a moral obligation to come forth and say so.  If the voice is Islam is actually many voices, then it is time for these many voices to realize that the world needs to hear from them.  The world needs to hear that the murderers who kill and maim innocents for economic or political reasons, and yet say that are doing so in the name of the Prophet, are wrong – they do not represent Islam.

Perhaps some of the leaders of Islam have already said such things and their voices have been lost in the worldwide clamor of voices that serves as our news.  I am sure that some of these leaders must have spoken up.  Yet, their voices are not heard.  The people of America and Europe need to hear a strong voice from Islam condemning the murder of innocents, and if this voice of Islam is not strong enough it must become stronger, because the honor of Islam is at stake.  It is the cruel murderers of innocents who besmirch the name of Islam, but it is the silence of the leaders of Islam that these murderers take as approval for their heinous crimes against humanity.

Now is the time for Islam to find its strong voice and condemn all acts of murderous terrorism against innocents, for however appalling the loss of life that occurs in these attacks, even deeper damage is done to Islam itself when its many leaders remain silent.

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September 11th will always resonate in the mind of Americans, and much of the world’s population as well.  Synonymous with deceit and murder, it raises the question of whether it is, or ever will be, possible for humans to trust each other.  The fact that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Muslims is really only incidental.  Half a century earlier an equally horrendous act was carried out by the Japanese.  Surprise attacks and treachery have been carried out throughout history, and there can be little doubt that there will be more attempts at mass murder in the future – if not by Al Qaeda then by someone else.  But the question that is on many people’s minds today, not the least of whom is Dick Cheney – the former Vice President who never fails to bring up the prospect of Al Qaeda sneaking a small nuclear bomb into the U.S. – is this: will Al Qaeda attack the U.S. mainland again?

There is little doubt that if they could they would. This group of men, who would probably serve as a good definition of the word “maniacs”, is committed to the destruction of Western civilization.  However, their capabilities are extremely limited, and it appears that even these limited capabilities are diminishing. The hallmark of Al Qaeda attacks has been improvisation and preying on unsuspecting targets – most of whom are entirely innocent of doing any harm to these people.  They are the “Jack the Rippers” of the Arab world.  The key to their prior success was that the western world did not take them to be a serious threat and therefore did not expend sufficient resources in trying to apprehend them or to defend themselves for what was considered to be an unlikely attack.  The fact that Al Qaeda had already bombed the World Trade Center years before 9/11 didn’t even produce enough concern in Washington.

The attacks on 9/11 changed everything.  Like the Japanese Navy many years before, Al Qaeda had awakened a sleeping giant.  Until then, Al Qaeda attacks had received only a relatively small response, and while Osama bin Laden probably expected (and perhaps even hoped for a massive response as a result of the attack) it is unlikely he could have conceived of the nature of the U.S. response in the years since 9/11.  It is unlikely he knew the extent of the capabilities of the NSA to intercept worldwide communications.  It is unlikely that he knew he would be identified so quickly as the leader of the effort, and it is unlikely that he expected the massive attacks on Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Al Qaeda teams that were responsible for the 9/11 murders had it easy.  They simply walked past our almost non-existent airport security mechanisms.  The flight crews and passengers on the planes were defenseless. The country was asleep.  Not any more.  Airport security continues to get ever tighter.  Many, if not most, U.S. flight crews are well armed.  Clandestine, but heavily armed, Federal Air Marshals also ride on U.S. airline flights.  The doors to all airline cockpits are now armored. There will never be a replay of 9/11.

But what about other types of attacks? What about Dick Cheney’s worst nightmare? Could it happen?  Could Al Qaeda pull it off? They say “never say never”, and in an inherently uncertain world we have to admit that is true.  Nevertheless, the probability of such an attack by Al Qaeda is extremely remote.  Every moment of every day Al Qaeda is hunted by clandestine warriors.  They are targeted by clandestine drones that fire high speed missiles at their mountain hideouts.  They are unable to use radio or telephone communications without being monitored.  A vigilant America not only guards its own borders and people, but it actively and relentlessly seeks Al Qaeda wherever they might be.  Al Qaeda’s only future is its own inevitable destruction – a destruction that will undoubtedly catch them on one dark night by complete surprise, much as 9/11 caught America by surprise.

Does this mean we can relax? Is it safe to fly again?  Is it OK to visit New York City?  Answering these questions in reverse order: yes, it is safe to visit NYC, yes it is safe to fly, no we cannot relax.  That was how Al Qaeda was able to succeed.  That is how Japan was able to succeed.  The lesson we have learned and forgot many times, most recently from Pearl Harbor, is that eternal vigilance is  the price for liberty.  Today, our country stands alert.  Our “War on Terror” continues both openly and clandestinely.  And it is because we are vigilant that we are safe, not only from Al Qaeda, but from others in the world who would also seek to harm us.

Our country has once again learned a difficult lesson about trust.  Let us not forget it this time.

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If there is one result that always occurs when a sneak attack takes place, it is the lack of trust.  The Al Qaeda attacks on September 11 rival the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in their element of surprise, horror, and disgust.  It is fair to say that any significant surprise attack will produce these emotions.  However, besides these immediate reactions, there is also a lingering effect on society – a prolonged lack of trust ensues.  Who, exactly, is the enemy? Will the enemy attack again? If they do attack again, what sort of attack will it be? Can we do anything to prevent such an attack?

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan and became fully engaged in World War II.  The war continued on for years until President Truman decided to use nuclear weapons against Japan.  Japan surrendered almost immediately after the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Our war against Al Qaeda has not come to any such conclusion.  Indeed, we seem to be fighting an unending series of skirmishes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe secretly in Pakistan too.  Without some sort of surrender or formal peace agreement we have no other option than to keep our guard up.  However, unlike the post Pearl Harbor world, keeping our guard up means far more than aerial or maritime surveillance.  It means more than just rounding up potential suspects, either in the U.S. detention camps of WW II, or the Gitmos of today.  Technology has provided us a new way of being vigilant.

It is no secret that the Bush/Cheney administration interpreted the office of President as being essentially equal to Emperor.  They blithely ignored laws that protected Americans from unwarranted surveillance.  They instituted a set of measures, using whatever technologies were available, to find, locate, track, any and all potential threats.  They sifted through mountains of electronic messages and voice messages.  They used spy satellites to try to find unusual activities in unusual places.  Nothing was sacred, nothing was protected from this surveillance and none of it was done with court ordered warrants – as U.S. law requires.  The President simply assumed sweeping powers that, in fact, do not belong to the President, and he and his Vice President created a new world – a world that had been foretold in books like 1984 and Brave New World.

Here’s something to think about next time you call in sick to work and then go out to watch a baseball game.  If you have a cell phone in your pocket, it is possible to find and track you at any time.  If you have a two-way GPS system in your car, it is possible to track your car wherever it goes.  The question is: does the government do this as part of its anti-terrorism activities?  If you were the person in charge of anti-terrorism in the U.S., what would you do?

We may think we are anonymous when we go to a movie theater or a restaurant.  We might think that no one knows when we take a day off from school or work and head for the beach.  We might think that no one knows if we have a secret rendezvous with someone, but is that true?  Could it be that Big Brother is watching?  And if Big Brother knows, who else knows?  It’s a question worth thinking about.

Some other questions worth thinking about are these: will we ever trust each other again?  Will our government ever trust us again?  Will we ever trust our government again? Will we ever trust Congress again to stand up to a President who abuses his powers?  Will we ever trust strangers again?  Will we ever trust anyone from the Middle East again?

The list goes on and on.  The loss of lives in the 9/11 attacks was horrendous.  By any standard of conduct whether it is Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, American, Israeli, Palestinian – you name it – the large scale murder of innocent people is not only inexcusable, it is damnable and beneath contempt.  It is the act of cowards and shall ever be remembered as such – to the everlasting shame and disgrace of the perpetrators.  However, those of us who now live in  a post 9/11 world have to deal with another effect of the attacks: the loss of trust.  It is this loss of trust that can completely change how we live.  If we give in to the urge to commit blanket surveillance of everyone, where does the surveillance end? As technology gets better and better and sensors become more sensitive and more ubiquitous and more varied, will we lose all sense of privacy – or is it simply that we no longer have a right to privacy?

As we approach another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and listen to Dick Cheney’s oft-stated fear of Al Qaeda with suitcase nukes coming to America, we need to ask ourselves whether we can draw a line.  Is there such a thing as too much government surveillance?  Have we forever yielded our right to private, individual lives in the name of security?

Could it be that we have already lost our private lives forever, but no one has told us?

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I would guess that most of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about the horrific attacks  on the Twin Towers and the subsequent attack on the Pentagon.  There aren’t many moments in your life, no matter how long you live, that you will recall as vividly as the moment you learned about it. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was also like that for me.  I don’t think anyone really feels that they have heard a satisfactory explanation of why Lee Harvey Oswald killed him. That was over forty years ago, and there are still many people who don’t believe the results of the official U.S. government investigation.

The U.S. government’s 9/11 Commission Report has also failed to gain unanimous support.  The report is primarily an analysis of how we failed to prevent the attacks and how we failed to be aware that they might even occur. However, the greatest failure of the report is that no attempt is made to understand what motivated the attacks.  We are left to believe that the motive of Al Qaeda is some sort of radical Islamic hatred of the Christian and Jewish west.  However, just a simple observation of the attacks themselves show quite clearly that the attacks were not at all an attempt to begin a religious war or even to wage a terrorist campaign against people who were not of the Islamic faith. Look at their targets:

The World Trade Center could be described as the financial capital of the multinational businesses of the United States. The twin towers were not only functional centers of finance, they were iconic symbols of America’s mighty economic impact throughout the world. The second target, the Pentagon, is another icon as well as the functional center of the vast military might of the United States.  Long after the attacks occured, and after much investigation, it has been learned that the U.S. Capitol building was the intended target of United flight 93.  The aircraft that crashed in Shanksville, PA after heroic intervention by its passengers. The U.S. Capitol building is also an icon and the functional center of our government.  The 9/11 attacks were an attack on a U.S. financial – military – government triad.  While it would have been easy, there were no attacks on any Christian churchs, Jewish synagogues, Mormon, Buddhist, or Hindu temples or any other religious organizations or icons.  The attackers may well have all been Islamic, but the attacks were not about Islam.

If we are to understand what 9/11 was all about we need to consider one very important point: every single attacker was on a suicide mission. Why is that important? Consider Japan at the close of World War II.  Defeat was seen to be inevitable. Many Japanese feared severe retribution from American forces.  Their backs were against the wall and they expected no mercy. Thus was born the Kamikaze pilots, the “Divine Wind”.  The Kamikaze pilots flew their bomb-laden aircraft directly into American warships in a last ditch attempt to stop the advance of the U.S. Navy and a subsequent invasion. There is little doubt that the courage of these Japanese pilots was sustained, in part, by their trust in God.  However, no one has ever suggested that the Kamikaze attacks were some sort of group of religious fanatics.

Toward the end of World War II the Nazis in Germany also planned to develop a suicide bomber squadron called the Leonidas Squadron. The pilots would fly Messerschmitt Me328 aircraft, equipped with a single 2,000 bomb, into selected Allied targets. There were problems with development of the aircraft, however, and the squadron never saw action.

The common thread among the Nazis, the Japanese Kamikaze, and the Al Qaeda attackers is that they were all desperate attacks. Suicide attacks are always an indicator that the attacker feels severely oppressed and near defeat, but out of a sense of patriotism, rage, and injustice decides to make one final attempt to destroy a hated enemy even if it means his own death.  It’s not about converting someone to his religion, nor is it because he is unhappy that people on the other side of the world don’t worship the same God he does.  The 9/11 attacks were desperate moves by men who felt their backs were to the wall.  But why did they feel that way? And why us? What did we do?

We didn’t do anything. Neither you nor I, nor any of the people who died in the attacks were a threat to Al Qaeda.  The people who were killed are what our military would call “collateral damage”. Sort of like the innocent civilians who were killed in the “Shock and Awe” campaign in Iraq.  The real targets were the iconic, and also functional, buildings of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol.  But why? Why strike at the heart of our multinational business system, our military, and our government? It’s because these Al Qaeda terrorists, and their leaders, view these three icons as one sort of an unholy Trinity, and it was this Trinity that was threatening their very existence. Al Qaeda was, and is, made up of desperate men, but they are not crazed religious fanatics.

OK, so how can these people feel so threatened? What could we be doing to them that would make them feel that they are on the brink of destruction?  The answer is the same answer that can be given as the cause of all wars: they perceive us as stealing their wealth. It is our wealth that allows us to live. Our homes, our jobs, our land, our money, our industries – all these things, and more, could be considered our collective wealth.  For the people of this part of the world, their principle source of all their wealth lies in a single word: “oil”.

The U.S. has a long and checkered history of being in the oil business in the Middle East.  When Iran nationalized their oil operations in 1951, the U.S. began efforts, led by the CIA, to depose their leader. This succeeded in 1953 when the Shah of Iran was reinstated and Iran began to sell cheap oil to American oil companies again. The Shah was deposed in the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and they haven’t been very friendly to us ever since. Similarly, Saddam Hussein nationalized the Iraqi oil industry in 1972 and tossed the American oil companies out of Iraq. The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and captured Saddam. He was executed on Dec 30, 2006.  The Iraqi Oil Ministry is now negotiating oil deals with Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Total, and Chevron so that U.S. companies can pump oil from Iraq again.

It is interesting to note that almost all of the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. So is Osama bin Laden. None of the terrorists were from Iraq.  Yet, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda was quick to enter Iraq and join the fight against the U.S. In the past Osama bin Ladin has stated that some Al Qaeda attacks were due to the U.S. support of Israel and its perceived unfair treatment of Palestinians.  It is pretty clear that Al Qaeda sees itself as a sort of defender of last resort of the entire Middle East, defending it from domination, and the subsequent loss of its wealth, by the U.S. Unholy Trinity of our  multinational businesses, military, and government.  The thing is, this is not exactly an irrational fear.

In 1997 the Project for the New American Century was founded. It’s stated proposition was that, “American leadership is good for both America and for the world.” It has been a strong advocate for American leadership, or domination, of the world.  It has been very influential in the Bush administration. In 1998, members of the organization, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz warned President Clinton that Saddam was a threat and should be removed because of his weapons of mass destruction.  In a report written in 2000 the group warned that “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.” Paul Wolfowitz became President Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2001 and, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, pressed for the invasion of Iraq, an idea also strongly pushed by John McCain at the same time. Donald Rumsfeld was President Bush’s Secretary of Defense at the time.

The fact that these three people immediately advocated an attack on Iraq as a response to 9/11 indicates that their view of the conflict is not too different from that of Osama bin Laden.  This is a conflict between America and its policy of financial, military and political dominance throughout the Middle East and a small group of guerrilla fighters who view this as nothing less than the theft of the entire region’s wealth.Basically they feel they are getting a really, really bad deal.

There is no doubt that these guerrillas are fanatical fighters.  There is no doubt they feel their backs are to the wall. There is no doubt they will employ suicide tactics again if they feel it will help achieve their objective. And there is also no doubt that this war is not about religion.  It is not about Islam or Christianity. Nor is it about American freedom.  It’s not about any of the great emotional issues that the leaders of all countries always try to stoke in order to get their young men to go out and die for their country.

The cause of the 9/11 attack is not radical Islam; it is the same as the cause for every war that has ever taken place. It’s about wealth. It’s about money. It’s about some people believing they are being exploited so badly that they and their way of life can’t survive, and the people on the other side not even aware of this and, come to think of it, not even caring whether they survive or not anyway.

The tragedy is that it is the innocent who always suffer the most.

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