The Reading Shelf
Brian H. Gill
Five years ago today, people died when New York's World Trade Center towers collapsed. More died when the Pentagon's walls were breached by an airliner, and the passengers and crew of Flight 93 stopped terrorists from completing their mission.
Sometimes a television is handy to have. Yesterday, I watched the president, the first lady, and a marine place a wreath of flowers on two pools of water in what New Yorkers now call The Pit. While they walked from one pool to another, and then as they walked away, bagpipers played. Notes of "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies" bounced off walls of The Pit as the president got into a black van.
Those pools mark the World Trade Center tower footprints in lower Manhattan. The wreath-laying was the first memorial observance I noticed. There will be many more.
One of the events of five years ago that probably won't be memorialized, at least not outside one small town, is what happened to Korean Air Flight 85. That's too bad, since I think that Korean Air's experience with misbehaving airliners shows a difference in how this country and some others deal with threats.
In 1978, Korean Air's Flight 902 strayed into Soviet airspace. Soviet air defense identified the airliner as a Boeing 747, then they shot at the airliner. Two passengers died and the Korean pilots were forced land on a frozen lake.
Flight 007 got too close to Russia in 1983. This time everyone on board died when the Airliner was shot down. This attack may be understandable. The fighter pilot's commanders were under the impression that it was an American spy plane.
Contrast this with September 11, 2001. Two hijacked airliners had been crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Another set of hijackers crashed an airliner into the Pentagon. Passengers and crew of another airliner stopped the hijackers in their plane, but died in the process.
Over the Pacific, Korean Air Flight 85, headed for Anchorage and then New York, started transmitting a coded signal which warned that the airliner had hijackers on board. Downtown Anchorage was evacuated, and American fighters armed with guns and live missiles intercepted the airliner.
The sensible thing to do would have been to shoot Korean Air 85 out of the air while it was still over the Pacific. Americans aren't that sensible, not that way. While the airliner kept transiting the hijacker signal, air traffic controllers gave the pilots maneuvering instructions, which they followed.
It seemed possible that there really weren't hijackers on the airliner, despite the signal and what was going on in the eastern part of the USA. US and Canadian officials decided to have the plane land at an isolated spot: Whitehorse International Airport.
The 747 crew may have been surprised at being diverted to a small town in western Canada, and more surprised when armed RCMP troopers ordered them out of the plane. They didn't know that they were transmitting a hijacking warning.
Finally, here are a few quotes that I can find comforting. It looks like folks weren't any more wise, or daft, in the past than they are now.
"The outcome of the war is in our hands; the outcome of words is in the council." (Homer (800 BC - 700 BC), in The Iliad
"Let him who desires peace prepare for war." Flavius Vegetius Renatus (about 375 AD), in De Rei Militari
"The name of peace is sweet, and the thing itself is beneficial, but there is a great difference between peace and servitude. Peace is freedom in tranquility, servitude is the worst of all evils, to be resisted not only by war, but even by death." Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC), in Philippica
"My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds." Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), in a speech at Downing Street, London, after his return from making the Munich Pact. September 30, 1938
"We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a programme would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators" Neville Chamberlain, in a speech to the House of Commons, justifying his policy. October 6, 1938
"Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided." Senator William Borah, (1865-1940, Idaho's Progressive Republican "Lion of Idaho"), when he heard that Hitler had invaded Poland. September of 1939
September 11, 2006.
copyright © Brian H. Gill 2006
Brian H. Gill
Tonight, twin pillars of light shine in New York City's skyline where the World Trade Center stood.
Mercifully, most Hollywood and music celebrities were busy emoting about the effects of hurricane Katrina. This year we didn't receive their wise words on the subject of foreign policy and geopolitics.
It's been four years since airliners ran into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, with predictable results. For decades, American leaders had been treating the acts of people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Osama Bin Laden, and outfits like Hezbollah as a sort of law enforcement issue for police and judges to handle. It didn't work. Now we have a War on Terror.
We're in for a long and difficult conflict, because this is the real world, not some television show from the Sixties or Seventies. There won't be a helicopter chase, a dramatic climax and relevant dialog between the street-wise wise white private eye and the black cop.
The War on Terror will be difficult, but not hopeless. Afghanistan is free of the Taliban, and Iraq has a reasonable chance of building a prosperous democracy.
This country got good news toward the end of July this year. About three years and ten months after 9-11, the Fiqh Council of North America, a group of Moslem scholars, issued a fatwa that those who practice terrorism in the name of Islam were "criminals, not 'martyrs.'" This statement is special since it didn't leave much room for doubletalk "There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism," they wrote. "Targeting civilians. life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is … forbidden."
The Fiqh Council deserves credit for accepting today's world, and dealing with it.
When trying to think about the War on Terror, many people seem to have trouble realizing that this isn't the Vietnam War. "Quagmire" has been used so often that I feel it's only a matter of time before someone talks about being bogged down in the rice paddies of Iraq.
The War on Terror is a kind of conflict that this country has never seen, and which hasn't happened anywhere, at least in Europe, for centuries. We're facing people who are convinced that they have a holy duty to kill us. They won't stop until their children, or their children's children, grow up with something to occupy their minds besides hate for western civilization in general and the United States in particular.
Until that happens, I hope that leaders in this country keep acting as if there are folks out there who want to kill us, and that they should be stopped. In the long run, I believe that this war will not be won until we help people in places that support terrorism build a tolerant and prosperous civilization.
It's hard to imagine religiously-inspired terror getting support from a place that tolerates individual rights, including the right to get and keep wealth, and which tolerates people who don't agree with everything that their leaders think.
September 11, 2005.
copyright © Brian H. Gill 2005
Brian H. Gill
Some things have changed in the year since September 11, 2001.
Here in Sauk Centre, more flags are up: some spots are awash in red and white stripes and blue-backed stars. Folks in the local Post Office wear photo-id tags. I suppose it's for security, but in this town if there was a stranger behind the Post Office counter, we'd all know it.
Some things haven't.
In the first week of September, 2002, I read that many television networks, broadcast and cable, would be having September 11th anniversary shows. From what I read, they would be long on weeping widows and sorrowful sons, but short on what caused the grief. ABC news, for example, would only "slightly modify" its policy of not showing footage of the planes that rammed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The Saturday before September 11, 2002, I heard actresses and actors describe the deep feelings they have about the event.
I think there's a place for commemorative concerts and survivor interviews. I even think there's a place for actresses to show how wide they can open their eyes.
I also think it is a good idea to remember what, and who, caused all this grief in the first place. We should acknowledge the deep sorrow felt by those who lost someone dear to them, and honor the heroes who died while serving others.
But we should remember that this wasn't an accident, it wasn't a tragedy, it wasn't a statement. It was an attack.
On September 11, 2001, thousands of people were killed when a small number of fanatics flew airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, and into the Pentagon. The death toll would have been higher, but people on another hijacked airliner stopped that attack. They died, but because of their sacrifice a whole lot more of us are still alive.
An unpleasant reality is that the "9/11" event isn't over. There are still many folks out there who are very proud of the fact that they want to kill Americans and Jews. In fact, some of them are quite enthusiastic about it, at least when interviewed by American news reporters.
And this isn't anything new.
We've known for decades that there are people out there with an active interest in hurting Americans. It wasn't news when the American embassy in Tehran was taken in 1979. It certainly isn't news now.
Back in 1993, Ramzi Yousef and others set off a large bomb under the New York City World Trade Center towers. Not many people died, then, and some of the bombers were caught. Repairs were made and life went on as usual.
In 1995, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani national who was born in Kuwait, Ramzi Yousef, and others "allegedly" planned to blow up trans-Pacific airliners heading for the USA. Their plans were stopped, and life went on as usual.
In 1996, Khobar towers is hit, probably by Hezbollah. The debris and nineteen bodies are removed, negotiations which might lead to a thorough investigation started, and life went on as usual.
In 1998, American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanznaia were bombed. Two hundred twenty four people were killed: most of them Africans, this time. We think Osama bin Laden is responsible. After the clean-up, life went on as usual.
In 1999, we almost lost the Seattle space Needle and part of Los Angeles International Airport. The authorities here did their job, and people connected with Osama bin Laden were stopped before they did any damage. Life went on as usual.
In 2000, on October 12, seventeen sailors on the USS Cole were killed when a boat loaded with explosives blew up during refueling in Aden, Yemen. The ship was patched up and life went on as usual.
September 11, 2001: Two airliners destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, another hit the Pentagon, and a fourth was brought down by USA citizens on board before reaching its target. Thousands of people were killed. This time, life didn't go on quite as usual.
I am afraid, though, that the desire to have "peace in our time" may prevail. Brilliant and prominent people are urging us to stop this war on terror. Norman Mailer, writing in a British publication, the London SUNDAY TIMES (9/8/2002), pointed out that, compared to the total American population, "the 3000 deaths in the Twin Towers came approximately to one mortality for every 90,000 Americans." More people die in auto accidents each year. Apparently he believes that we should stop being upset over such a minor matter.
Perhaps Mr. Mailer and the other sophisticated folks believe that it is time to stop bothering folks in the Middle East and elsewhere who enjoy killing Americans and Jews, because they think the threat is limited to 'those people..
Remember the Bamiyan Buddhas? These two colossal statues were carved out of the mountains of Afghanistan centuries ago. In March of 2001, they were perhaps the most prominent cultural treasures destroyed in an effort by the Afghan rulers to remove "un-Islamic" influences from the country. Even the leaders of other Muslim countries thought this was a bad idea.
Happily, there are photographs and descriptions of the statues, the caves and the frescos of this ancient wonder. No one will see them again in their original form.
Soul-mates of the folks who destroyed the statues of Afghanistan don't limit their attention to inanimate objects. In Lagos, Nigeria, Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to be executed by stoning: but first, she was to be buried up to her neck in sand. She had broken an Islamic law against adultery.
News of this got to the outside world, protests were made, and she was acquitted. I haven't heard what happened to Lawal Kurami, convicted on similar charges. The man involved in that case, Yahaya Mohammed, was acquitted "for lack of evidence." An important point here may be that at least one of these women was acquitted: There seem to be many in the Islamic world who aren't sympathetic with the fanatics.
And people in Lockerbie, Scotland, won't soon forget the day that pieces of an airliner fell on their heads. Libya may have had something to do with that little event.
What's the point of all this?
There are people out there who sincerely believe that they have the right, perhaps even the duty, to kill those who don't agree with them. They believe that their god wants them to destroy artwork, and artists, which offend their beliefs (remember Salmon Rushdie?).
Our problem is that they have been doing something about their beliefs. That is why we can't let life go on as usual.
There is evidence piling up, including imported centrifuge parts, new construction at facilities which could produce enriched uranium, and a remarkable diffidence about letting UN weapons inspectors take a look around. It looks like Iraq could be planning to help out with the next effort to remove "un-Islamic" influences.
I am afraid that if we don't act carefully, but quickly, we will soon have an opportunity to express grief and sympathy on a scale that will make 9/11 look insignificant. We may even see enough people killed to make Mr. Mailer take notice.
September 8, 2002.
copyright © Brian H. Gill 2002
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