Posts Tagged ‘al qaeda’

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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The stories are everywhere.  Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to tell Congress what they were doing with respect to a particular assignment they had been given by him. It seems that the Dark Lord felt he couldn’t trust the members of Congress to keep this darkest of secrets.  Maybe Dick felt that the Congressional people weren’t loyal enough Americans – at least not as loyal as he is.  Or maybe he felt that they couldn’t be entrusted with information so essential to the security of the country. After all, they were only the elected representatives of the people of the United States.  The problem is that there is a law that requires the President to disclose to the appropriate Congressional committees just what covert actions are being taken by the CIA or any other government agency.

The law also says that in extraordinary circumstances the reporting can be limited to just a few individuals in Congress, such as the Chairmen of the Intelligence committees, the Speaker of the House, and so forth.  There is no provision in this law for the President to just keep Congress completely in the dark about any covert action.

Here are a couple of things to consider: 1. What is the role of the Vice President regarding the CIA, according to the Constitution of the United States? That’s pretty simple – he has no role. The Vice-President, under the Constitution has virtually no authority to do anything.  He is the President-in-waiting in case something happens to the real President.  That doesn’t mean he can’t do things on behalf of the President – like carry messages and so forth. But the important thing is that when doing so, he is speaking on behalf of the President.  The Vice-President is not empowered to do anything – except be President of the Senate and vote when there is a tie.  He has no other legal authority.  So, did Dick Cheney authorize or order the CIA not to talk to Congress? He couldn’t authorize such a thing.  If he ordered it, he was ordering it on behalf of President Bush – he was just the messenger.

2. Does the President have the authority to tell the CIA not to divulge covert activities to Congress?  No, he doesn’t. The law is clear. If he thinks the situation warrants it, he can limit the number of people who are informed; however, he has to tell some stipulated members of Congress, otherwise he is in violation of the law.

3. What was the CIA doing that was such a dark secret that only the Dark Lord could know about it? Did they have a super secret plan to assassinate the leaders of Al Qaeda? Was that the darkest of dark secrets that no one could ever know about – especially Congress?  I don’t think so. Wasn’t it fairly obvious when we started carpet bombing Afghanistan with B-52 bombers after 9/11 that we wanted to kill someone? After all these years of taking potshots at suspected Al Qaeda types with Predator drones wouldn’t the Al Qaeda guys have figured out that we were out to kill them?  If we had made a public announcement that besides the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force who were gunning for Al Qaeda that we were also unleashing a couple of guys from the CIA, would that have made any difference to Al Qaeda?  Would they have then suddenly figured out that we were trying to kill them by any means possible?  I don’t buy it.

It does seem that the Dark Lord ordered the CIA not to talk to Congress about something they were doing.  It also seems to me that he had no right to do so, and that he violated the law – once again (I’m referring to the torture thing here, of course).  Of course, a lot of this would never have happened if Congress had any backbone and stood up to Bush and Cheney long ago, instead of just looking the other way. Perhaps now it is finally time for Congress to stand up and do its job.  It’s time for a real and thorough Congressional investigation into what the Dark Lord was doing all those years.  If our elected representatives can’t get up the gumption to do that then we would be forced to admit a terrible truth – we have a pretty sorry excuse for a government.

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Dick Cheney is at it again.  Like an undead vampire he has returned, being interviewed on CNN and once again espousing the virtues of torturing prisoners.  It is in a way surreal.  How can it be that a former U.S. Vice President can advocate a policy that completely disregards human rights?  Under Cheney’s direction the U.S. engaged in a systematic program of capture and torture of people who had suspected Al Qaeda connections.  He claims that through techniques, such as waterboarding (were there also other methods, even more diabolical that we don’t know about?) the U.S. obtained key information that allowed us to preempt terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, all the details of the information and the preemptive strikes are so secret the American people can’t be trusted to know the details of these episodes – even though they are episodes that happened in the past.  Cheney is convinced that it was only through these extraordinary measures that America has been kept safe.  So how come Cheney never used his wonderful torture techniques to find out where Osama bin Laden was hanging out?

It might be instructive to take a brief look at the career of another person who seems to have shared Cheney’s admiration for the use of torture. This person is known today as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad became ruler of a part of Romania, called Wallachia, upon the death of his father. He was confronted by a host of enemies and within a short span of time he had lost and regained his crown three times.  During his main reign, from 1456 to 1462, Vlad attained his reputation for torturing his prisoners. Torture was used for various purposes, but one of the primary purposes was to instill fear in his enemies. Vlad would impale his prisoners on posts and set them outside Wallachia as a warning to attacking armies.  When Sultan Mehmed II attacked Wallachia in 1462 he was faced with the sight of 20,000 impaled Turkish prisoners between him and Vlad’s town.  Mehmed was undeterred and simply drove his army forward and quickly conquered Wallachia.  It seems that Vlad’s practice of extreme torture was ineffective as a deterrent.  It is also likely that any information he obtained by torture was equally useless because it is well known that people under torture will say anything just to make the torture stop.  Confessions given under torture are never admissible as evidence in a court of law.  Today, not many people are familiar with the career of Vlad the Impaler. Most people have never heard his name.  However, almost everyone in the world knows him today by his other name: Vlad Dracula or simply Dracula.  Even for Dracula, torture just never worked as well as he hoped it would.

Getting back to Cheney, our former Vice President is now making the rounds of the news media, asserting that President Obama is making us less safe because he is stopping the torture and extraordinary rendition programs that Cheney the Torturer so loved.  What he fails to mention is that it was during his watch, as Vice President, that this country was attacked.  What he fails to mention is that his beloved torture program failed to lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden.  What he fails to mention is that his torturing of prisoners from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to the dark and secret recesses of former Soviet prisons somewhere in Eastern Europe has failed to prevent terrorist attacks in Spain or England.  More importantly, his torturing of prisoners has not stopped thousands and thousands of undocumented people flooding across our border with Mexico throughout his term as Vice President. I wonder if an Al Qaeda terrorist could do that too? So how does Cheney’s program of torture prevent that?

Cheney claims that the U.S. is vulnerable to attack, and he should know.  He methods of torture have been ineffective, his Department of Homeland Security is incompetent, and his war in Iraq irrelevant.  The Pashtun tribes who occupy the border regions between Afganistan and Pakistan are rumored to be helping Osama bin Laden and his buddies, but who can be sure? If we were sure we would capture them, wouldn’t we? The simple fact is that Dick Cheney has looked for Al Qaeda everywhere except where we think Al Qaeda really is. We have sent our armed forces into Iraq and Afghanistan, but no where near the Al Qaeda hideouts.  Cheney and Bush tortured people for seven years and their torture produced no effective result.

These days, Cheney the Torturer is still advocating and justifing torture. So did Vlad the Impaler throughout his life.  The puzzling thing is this: it really didn’t work very well for Vlad, and it clearly didn’t work very well for Cheney either.

Maybe they both liked torture for some other reason.

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About two weeks ago, the USS George H.W. Bush was commissioned at the Norfolk Naval Station.  Construction on the ship began about eight years ago by Northrop Grumman and cost about $6,200,000,000.  She’s the last of the Nimitz class, nuclear powered, supercarriers, built out of the desire to keep us safe from the Russians.   According to Northrop Grumman, this ship will now pave the way for a whole new class of aircraft carriers, just in case, as Sarah Palin so succinctly and convincingly stated, “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go?”  Indeed, where do they go? Thus our need for a whole new generation of hyper-super aircraft carriers.  It’s like John McCain said after Russian troops invaded Georgia to protect ethnic Russians from persecution in South Ossetia, “We are all Georgians”.  Indeed.  Anchors Aweigh!

Meanwhile, having concluded that there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after all (other than the U.S. military itself) let us turn our attention to that irritating issue of Osama bin Laden and his Taliban buddies, hiding out in the hills of Pakistan for these past eight years.  It seems that our occasional potshots, taken by remote controlled Predator aircraft, are upsetting our staunch allies, the Pakistan government. On the other hand, would sending in the USS GHW Bush really make sense in this case? I mean, what do the Pakistanis expect us to do, send in the 10th Mountain Division?  What a silly idea.  How could we possibly find Al Qaeda with specially trained mountain soldiers? It’s like Sarah said, “Where do they go?”

Wait a minute, I just found out that one of the Division’s soldiers once famously said, “We don’t do mountains”.  Oh…. Really? No, they don’t.  But aren’t they called the… Never mind.

Today, Pope Benedict hammered Barack Obama for supporting abortion rights.  This comes a day after the Pope reinstated a Roman Catholic Bishop who had been excommunicated.  It seems that the Bishop, Richard Williamson of Britain, claims that Hitler never gassed the Jews, and denied the Holocaust ever happened.  It’s good to know the Pope has his ethical priorities straight.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. faces a rapidly crumbling economy and refuses to give credence to the extremely dire predictions of leading economists like Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini.  President Obama is putting forth a stimulus plan that costs about $825 billion – about 3% of our gross domestic product. Meanwhile the Chinese are allocating about 14% of their gross domestic product for a stimulus package in their country.

So what does this all mean?  I have no idea.  Anyway, I think I’ll go out and get an ice cream cone because my car needs an oil change.  Then maybe I’ll head over to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee and just think for a while about something Sarah said that is still really bothering me: Where do they go? Indeed.

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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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