Note: Remember that Japan is 13 hours ahead of New York. The news broke late evening on September 11th.
September 12th, 2001
Yesterday's terrorist attack on the East Coast of America was an outrage. An outrage, obviously, against the as-yet-uncounted thousands of victims and their families, and an outrage not just against the American people but against humanity. I can only offer my personal heartfelt sympathy for all those who have suffered in this terrible tragedy.
By any normal historical assessment, this is an act of war, yet an act of war with no armies in sight, and with no conceivable tactical military aim. And what was it for? Nothing. Blind, stupid, nothing. Terrorism has never changed anyone's mind. (My personal contact with terrorism has been comfortably remote - I was within earshot of one of the IRA's "bangs" when I was working in London in the 70s - but the only thing it might have convinced me of was the futility of terrorism.)
If it's a war, should "we" bomb "them"? Most of the answers to this have been pretty well rehearsed already. So the US Military Intelligence (what did Groucho Marx say about music?) decides it was bin Laden, and kills him and his surrounding gang. How simple: yet how frighteningly close to a scenario where the US ends up engaged in terrorism against the population of Afghanistan, which as someone pointed out, is a bit like bombing the Mohave desert. Not much good would come of that.
And yet, and yet... Will America ever learn? Bush believes (apparently) that America was the target for this attack because it is the leader of the world, or the number one beacon of freedom, or something similar. Doesn't he know? America makes enemies. And sometimes America makes even its friends despair at its arrogance. In the last decade or so, a new term has come to prominence: "the international community". What does it mean, exactly? It means that (most of) the nation-states of the world work together the way humans do best - by agreeing where possible, and agreeing to disagree where not. But is America a member of this community? An international court has been proposed by the community: is America in favour? Yes, provided Americans are exempt. Trouble is that American exemption is a self-delusion, as has been demonstrated rather horrifically for the exemption from liability to terrorism.
Some minor observations.
We've been treated to quite a bit of the "hi-tech" response stuff - all about making it impossible to hijack a plane. Yesterday's modus operandi is unlikely ever to work again. Once the unthinkable has been thought, it comes to mind in no time, and in a repeat situation many passengers would doubtless be prepared to fight to the death, given death as the only alternative.* But there will be other ways. As my good friend Peter Evans said: "My guess is that if people have enough money and skill and are suicidal and totally ruthless they'll always find ways to kill other people."
* By this I mean that in the same situation, perceptions are changed for ever. Already it seems likely that passengers on the fourth plane fought (literally) to the death to prevent the "flying bomb" plan.
I'm also a bit puzzled by the use of the term "cowardly" - and not a little depressed, since it doesn't suggest much care has gone into understanding the motives here. Anyone prepared to die for some cause, however insane the cause, cannot be called a "coward" in the English language as I know it.
Finally, here's what may seem like a whacky suggestion: Why no parachutes? The dangers of very high buildings in fires are obvious enough; given no practice, and the extreme conditions, it would be an act of desperation to attempt a first parachute jump from a high building. But even quite a low survival rate would be better than the desperation of jumping without one.
Read: Harry Browne - 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate
That's all. Words fail me.
* * *
I didn't quite know what to do with myself yesterday - went out and took some photographs, though without much inspiration. I've watched so much recycled tv news, read so many comments, some thoughtful, others not so. The silliest thing going around is a statement by a Canadian journalist, Gordon Sinclair, including comments about other countries "gloating" over America. Most people posting this forget to mention that it was written in 1973, after the Vietnam War (Urban Legends).
But just in case: no civilised person on earth "gloats" over Tuesday's ghastly events, any more than over the bombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, or Coventry, nor over the sinking of the Belgrano. And we are all one (e-)family now. I was going to predict that while it's very unlikely I will have known any of the victims personally - after all, the last time I was in New York was eleven years ago (yes, we were tourists on the roof of the WTC) - but I would quite likely know2 a victim. (That is, know someone who knows someone.) Well, already I know3 quite a few victims: a friend of a friend is a fire captain in NY, who has lost many friends in the Command Center they were setting up. Who knows? TV here reports 22 Japanese missing, the BBC says "fears that several hundred Britons died."
Another thread in the hysteria is all about how the terrorists used encryption to hide their messages, or Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice. Well, they also used "box-cutter knives" (perhaps the sort I saw in Cainz Home DIY superstore the other day for 48 yen). Technology cannot be rebottled (nor of course can it be magically restricted to Americans). Here's a good post by Perry Metzger - originally to a cryptography list - on the problem. Since I learned English on the opposite side of the Atlantic, I would no doubt have used very different wording, but he represents my view eloquently.
In the wake of the tragedy in NYC today, I was asked by someone if I didn't now agree that crypto[graphy] was a munition. At the time, I thought that a friend of mine was likely dead. (I've since learned he escaped in time.) My answer then, when I thought I'd lost a friend, was the same as my answer now and the answer I've always had. Cryptography must remain freely available to all. In coming months, politicians will flail about looking for freedoms to eliminate to "curb the terrorist threat". They will see an opportunity to grandstand and enhance their careers, an opportunity to show they are "tough on terrorists". We must remember throughout that you cannot preserve freedom by eliminating it. The problem is not a lack of laws banning things. I know the pressure on everyone in Washington will be to "do something". Speaking as a New Yorker who dearly loves this city, who has felt deep shock throughout most of the day, watching the smoke still rising from the fires to the south of me, listening to the ambulances and police cars continuing to wail about me, let me say this: I do not want more laws passed in the name of defending my home. I do not want more freedoms eliminated to "preserve freedom". I do not want to trade my freedom for safety. Franklin has said far more eloquently than me why that is worthless. If you must do something, send out more investigators to find those responsible for this and bring them to justice. Pass no new laws. Take away no freedoms. Do not destroy the reason I live here to give me "safety". I'd rather die in a terrorist attack. -- Perry E. Metzger perry@[no-spam-thanks] -- "Ask not what your country can force other people to do for you..."
The ad they refused in Britain (Guardian story)
Some links worth reading
FAIR - bigotry ("We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter)
Background to bin Laden's "declaration of war" (US Council on Foreign Relations, 1998)
Bush is Walking Into a Trap by Robert Fisk
Bombing them with kindness
Why the U.S. is losing the propaganda war - Eric Boehlert in Salon magazine
Imaginatorium home page - Comment in guestbook
© Brian Chandler 2001
You may cite this in part or whole, provided you give acknowledgement, and any work in which it is included is similarly available. (Copyleft)
Created September 2001 - WDG validated