We all know the story by now. Four years ago, nineteen al-Qaeda suicide attackers, most of them Saudis, hijacked and crashed four US domestic flight jets.
I remember that day in all its surreal horror. The ragged, charred holes in the World Trade Center buildings, first seeing it on the news window when I logged onto my laptop that morning; then taking a minute to register that it wasn't just a small private airplane that had crashed into it but a commercial jet airliner. I turned on the television just to see the second plane crash into the other tower. Unreal. Then there came news of another jet crashing into the Pentagon, and the sickening moments when the burning towers began to lean, then implode into themselves. And then another jet crashing somewhere in Pennsylvania. Stuff like this was only supposed to happen in the movies, but this was reality and it was happening to us. Where else were the jets going to crash?
Just a few days before, I'd been on a returning flight from London; the experience fresh in my memory and now imagining what the last moments of those passengers must have been like. I'm not crazy about flying, so could only guess the horror those passengers must have felt upon seeing their plane closing in on the city skyscrapers. Or the horror those left stranded on the top floors of the towers must have felt, left with a choice of burning or jumping to their deaths. ...Or being caught in the buildings as they burned and collapsed. Like probably most other Americans, I spent that day glued to the news, writing emails to friends making sure they were alright. And the following days were eerily silent, since all airports and railroads had been shut down. This was like nothing any American of my generation had ever experienced. The economic repercussions of the disaster were felt for at least a couple years afterward, too -- in the form of mass layoffs and long-term unemployment.
As an American, and as a regular yearly visitor to New York City, I felt violated; ready for revenge. Most other Americans felt that way, too. The Revenge Meme is an ancient and powerful one. After all, human history is one long string of accounts of one person, tribe or nation exacting revenge on another. I wrote on newsgroups that Osama Bin Laden and the rest of Al Qaeda should be captured, dismembered and fed to pigs. I still think we need to do that.
A couple days after perusing the Web, however, I couldn't help but gain a more objective take on the whole thing. After all, I realized, like most Americans, I was in a place of relative luxury, sitting in a comfortable home watching all of this on television. But elsewhere, death and destruction take place with more regularity -- and are therefore a greater part of others' realities -- in those faraway places that we only see as newsclips on the nightly news, if we ever see them at all. To not acknowledge these harsher realities is to not acknowlege a more objective and truthful perspective. It was on this day four years ago that I wrote this essay:
...This post is not in any way intended to excuse the horrific attacks that occurred on the United States on September 11.This is only to examine the psychology of those involved who would commit these terrible deeds, and why they happened.
For some nations, war and violence are an everyday occurrence, but to most of us in the Western world, they probably seemed too far-away removed from our little slice of reality, only a name you hear on the nightly news with a three-minute video clip. But it is reality to a person living in one of these countries -- countries that have been invaded, attacked, bombed, controlled, seen their cherished landmarks, friends, family members and homes destroyed etc. And humans being humans, the opposing nation is marked as the enemy, even if it is only a handful of politicians making the decisions. For those countries whom we or our allies are at odds with, we are probably viewed as one huge, faceless entity -- a Goliath who casts a shadow over the world.
And now that we can access the world via Internet, we may now be able to see the realities of these conflicts; their effects on civilians and their families -- in far, far more harrowing detail than we have ever seen in the mainstream press. Imagine living in one of these countries and seeing scenes such as those, as a part of your reality. Their reality is not a reality that consists of watching the Disney Channel, or shopping on E-bay; planning road trips or which team to bet on in the office pool.
Each time I see the infamous scenes of the WTC, I can't *not* associate it with the photos of destruction that have taken place in other parts of the globe, and how we as a nation felt complacent that it would somehow never happen to us despite the fact that we all live on the same planet inhabited by fellow homo sapiens -- a rather emotional species which has a long and historically consistent record of violence, destruction and revenge -- and which now have the means and technology to communicate or travel anywhere around the globe if need be. These terrorists, I'm assuming, probably believed they were a David throwing a rock at a Goliath, believing their acts were completely justified.
Why weren't we more prepared? *
Some may interpret the above as an attempt to sympathize with the other side, but as I may point out, "understanding" is not synonymous with "sympathy". One can try to understand the other side -- make educated guesses about their probable moves and mindset -- without sympathizing with the other side. Anyone who plays chess, Stratego, poker or any other game pitting one's skill and wits against another realizes this. The reality is that "the other side," as a member of Homo Sapiens, thinks, feels and reacts in the same manner as we do; and, just as we will demonize them, they will demonize us. That isn't to make any moral judgments one way or the other; it's simply the truth of the reality here.
I supported President Bush's plan to invade Afghanistan. I imagined that what we'd need were elite teams to follow the terrorists into their hideyholes, just like ferrets sent after rats. ...Quietly and stealthily.
Four years later, Osama Bin Laden hasn't been caught yet, and the Bush administration apparently played a shell game with an American public so clueless about geography that most can't even locate Iraq on a map. Riding a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment (because of horrific actions of a group comprising mostly of Saudis), Bush has sent elephants to stomp all over a different country entirely. I suppose that makes for a better "show". I suppose that makes Americans feel good that we can show our military might.
But interestingly enough...why did a record number of illegal, non-Mexican immigrants cross over the American border last year? One would think guarding our own borders would be our first priority... right?
(*Note the very similar-sounding rhetoric to the questions being posed four years later regarding Hurricane Katrina...)